WHILE various government agencies have responded to the urgent needs of lower-income workers, with workfare schemes, tax rebates and skills training, professionals and organisations are also exploring ways in which they and their staff respectively, can upgrade their skills and increase their employability.

For a start, professionals can tap into the plethora of courses listed on the Singapore National Employers Federation website (www.sgemployers.com), while HR managers can work with the Employer Alliance (www.employeralliance.sg), a grouping of corporations that band together to share ideas on "creating work environments that enhance work-life integration".

Besides reskilling and training, there are other opportunities, such as pursuing further studies and taking sabbaticals abroad, to recharge for the future.

Global exchange

If your company and your employees are considering overseas learning stints, the Singapore International Foundation's (SIF) Young Business Ambassadors (YBA) Programme (China) is a platform that seeks to answer that call.

The Foundation is looking for six outstanding individuals to represent Singapore in the programme. They will work in a company in a similar field for 10 weeks in Shanghai, and gain invaluable insights and experiences from their Chinese counterparts.

As part of the Foundation's work in nurturing friends for Singapore, the programme's goals are to enable young Singaporean and Chinese professionals to develop global perspectives, business knowledge, corporate experience and an understanding of overseas business environments.

The YBA Programme essentially takes on the format of an exchange, where young professionals come to work in the respective cities - Shanghai and Singapore.

There they are placed in an organisation relevant to their skills and experience. They will have the opportunity to learn about the workings of the companies they are posted to, as well as experience the economic environments and work cultures.

Candidates are selected on their professional and personal merits. The cost of travel to Shanghai is covered by the SIF while accommodation and an appropriate living allowance will be arranged by the candidate's host company in Shanghai.

The programme with Shanghai has been running for the last five years; before that, the SIF held a similar programme in Melbourne, Australia.

Sharing knowledge

For former participant Claudia Chim, a planner with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the motivation was clear. "I wanted to improve myself both professionally and personally, to see, experience and learn new things and to make more friends and to share our culture and knowledge with the locals," she says.

Ms Chim, who was posted to the Shanghai Urban Planning and Design Research Institute.

The SIF's Shanghai partners for the programme are the Shanghai People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, and the Shanghai Municipal Office for Introduction of Foreign Experts.

Both organisations work closely with the host companies in Shanghai to ensure that the Singapore Young Business Ambassadors are introduced to the city.

Singapore companies that have hosted the Shanghai Young Business Ambassadors include DBS and OCBC banks, the Centre for Liveable Cities and the Fullerton Hotel, while Shanghai companies include the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, Shanghai Harbour Fuxing Shipping Services and the Shanghai Municipal Construction and Management Commission.

Mr Wan Shung Ming, the chairman of the External Relations Committee at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), says of his organisation's support for the programme: "The SIF Young Business Ambassadors programme in Shanghai can benefit many outstanding professionals from both cities. The programme includes components that are otherwise unavailable to the outsider.

"For instance, visits to and dialogues with key representatives from commercial and government sectors that give critical insights to the workings of businesses, as well as social exchanges that give a glimpse to work life and culture.

"SCCCI, being the apex body of the local Chinese business community, would strongly encourage our member companies that want to learn more about counterpart industries in Shanghai to support and take part in this initiative, either as a host company for a Shanghai ambassador or sending their staff to participate as ambassadors."

Says Ms Chim: "I established friendships with the locals during the stint, and had the chance to learn new things from my foreign friends. I also speak more confidently in my mother tongue now, having immersed myself in the Chinese culture and environment for 10 weeks.

"This programme has certainly enriched my life and at the same time boosted my confidence in taking on new challenges in the future."

With such a platform, instead of under-employing key staff in this climate, employers can make the downturn work for them-and their employees.