On 26th February, 166 of our IHRP-certified professionals attended IHRP’s webinar on ‘COVID-19: Possible Scenarios and HR responses to support your businesses to ride through them’. The webinar aimed at sharing how HR could take a forward-looking approach to prepare themselves for post COVID-19 business recovery. The session was jointly co-hosted by Mr. Robert Chong (IHRP Master Professional), Mr. Hao Shuo (Director of Operations Policy and Planning at the Labour Relations and Workplaces Division at MOM) and Mr. Kelvin Kwek (IHRP Senior Professional).
COVID-19: Business impact & Opportunities
Many businesses have experienced or are bracing themselves for the negative repercussions from COVID-19. On February 17, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) downgraded Singapore’s economic growth forecast for the year to between minus 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent – indicating a prelude to a possible recession. Sectors such as tourism, aviation, retail, food services, and point-to-point transport services have also been directly affected.
However, the crisis also paved the way for new business opportunities. Healthcare and medical supplies manufacturers are doing well due to a surge in demand for hygiene products and supplements. As reported by CNA1, delivery services also saw a spike in sales in Singapore, as more people are working from home and avoiding crowded eateries.
What’s next for Businesses and HR?
DPM Heng announced during the recent Budget announcement that Singapore will spend S$4 billion on a slew of new measures and enhancements to existing schemes to stabilise its economy amid the near-term uncertainties caused by COVID-19. He encouraged employers to not panic and think longer-term, making use of this down time to raise skills and capabilities, so that when the upturn comes, we will all emerge stronger.
For companies looking into training and reskilling their staff during this period, they could tap on funding schemes by Workforce Singapore and SkillsFuture Singapore. Some sectors could consider tapping on the Job Redesign Place and Train programme. Hao Shuo advised, “I would encourage businesses to look through the list of grants and support schemes the government has. You may also want to refer to the budget speech which mentions other support programmes like rebate of taxes and rentals.”
On training, “Managers who may have more free time can lead the upgrading and training of staff and there are also a lot of free online resources” Robert Chong advised.
Top of mind during the Q&A session were issues pertaining to employee’s leave and travel arrangements and how companies should respond in managing the business impact of COVID-19.
“From MOM’s perspective, we don’t want to be overly prescriptive on how companies should respond but they need to look at their own business and adopt measures based on their assessment of their own situation. I think this is where the HR practitioners can contribute more than just administrative views of what can be done to manage costs – they can give strategic views on where the company is going in terms of workforce development and make the appropriate recommendations to the management.” as shared by Hao Shuo during the webinar.
Whilst it is human nature to be concerned about how to tackle current issues, HR needs to be proactive and take a forward-looking view to prepare for the business for what lies ahead.
Robert Chong advised that we should “never let a crisis go to waste”. HR should take a significant role in partnering business leaders as they weather through this current challenge. HR should not play an admin coordination role but be at the frontline of business issues and discussions, playing the role of an effective partner jointly developing and taking ownership of the strategy and delivering outcome together with business leaders.
Onward Planning for possible business scenarios
HR should also adopt a forward-looking mindset amidst the current state and think of how they can value add. Amidst currently implementing preventive measures, the important emphasis is to think and plan for what lies ahead. Through planning ahead, HR can develop a deeper understanding of the potential scenarios and seize the opportunity to come up with quick, effective and impactful responses.
“We need to make plans for business recovery and for our businesses to “return to normalcy” while we are dealing with the immediate crisis. Thinking in the framework of scenarios is important for us to plan ahead. As HR, because we are business partners, we clearly need to understand how the scenarios would play out. For V-Shaped recovery, it is a scenario where recovery is very rapid, and businesses need to make adequate preparations which they can activate anytime. For a U-Shaped recovery, it is a prolonged recovery where it could mean that it is a good time to restructure or reorganise, to introduce productivity measures and retrain the workforce”, as shared by Robert Chong.
HR can leverage on downtime as they would have more bandwidth to relook the entire business and explore potential areas which could be implemented such as process simplification and introduction of technology. By using emerging evidence and data, HR can create realistic scenarios to proactively identify risks and mitigation actions required to better prepare the business for the recovery journey ahead.
In closing, Mayank Parekh, IHRP CEO, encouraged all HR professionals to take the opportunity to upskill and reskill their staff during this period as this allows them to diversify and deepen their skills for the long term. He also urged for the HR community to rally together and assist each other during this time.
We would like to thank Mr. Robert Chong, Mr. Hao Shuo and Mr. Kelvin Kwek, for a very informative and insightful webinar session and our community for the active participation. If you have any questions or thoughts on the topic, please feel free to continue to share on IHRP Connect so that we can crowdsource within the community to exchange ideas and share good practices with each other.
Log in to IHRP Connect to find out the responses shared by Mr. Robert Chong and Mr. Hao Shuo during the Q&A segment!