Singapore launches new programme to help SMEs digitise and transform

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The Covid-19 pandemic has forced more companies in Singapore to think about how they can use digital technologies to raise operational resilience by improving business processes and upskilling workers.

But when it comes to rolling out digital solutions in a sustained manner, many still flounder.

Last year, 74 per cent of business leaders surveyed by global management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company reported that while they had trialled Industry 4.0 use cases, such initiatives never went beyond the phase. One leading cause: These companies did not have the know-how to successfully implement changes at scale.

To help them address this, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), with support from Workforce Singapore (WSG), has launched the Industry 4.0 Human Capital Initiative (IHCI).

The IHCI is the first programme in Singapore to promote digitalisation with an equal emphasis on technological aspects and human capital development. Working with consultants from McKinsey and Ernst & Young, participants will identify key areas to digitise based on business impact and tailor Industry 4.0 solutions directly on their shopfloor – all while undergoing change management and job redesign.

Since March 2020, 67 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large businesses have successfully completed the IHCI’s eight-week-long Enabler programme. On average, they identified opportunities to improve productivity by 10 to 275 per cent, redesigning around 1,159 job roles in line with technological upgrades.

The programme commenced its fourth cohort in May this year with another 21 companies onboard.

“The IHCI Programme aims to support 300 companies in their Industry 4.0 transformation journey by 2022,” says Mr Anderson Ee, director of WSG’s Manufacturing Division.

Unlocking your capacity for more value-added tasks

Semiconductor equipment manufacturer AEM enrolled in the IHCI programme last year.

“We signed up to better understand how Industry 4.0 can be applied to benefit our staff in terms of redesigning and upgrading their job roles – and to enhance their job satisfaction while gaining productivity for the company,” says AEM’s quality director Lee Chee Kiong.

Before the under the IHCI programme, a significant proportion of AEM’s software engineers’ time was spent on physically monitoring the test rigs and manually reconciling data for reporting. Through the pilot phase, data was collected from the programmatic logic controllers (PLC) of AEM’s machines, enabling performance to be monitored and visualised in real time.

Without the need to do manual data aggregation, these engineers can now conduct higher value activities that require specific skills, such as condition-based monitoring and predictive maintenance, potentially contributing as a new revenue stream.

To support this progression, AEM conducted a skills mapping exercise to plot out new skills that would be required against the skills that their engineers currently possessed. The learning gaps were then matched to training programmes available in the SkillsFuture Training Exchange and incorporated into AEM’s Learning and Development roadmaps.

“Harnessing technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness is crucial for us to stay competitive and provide a better working environment for employees,” says AEM’s human resources director Tay Cheng Hoo.

“This puts the company in a better position to attract employees and retain these talents. With a stable workforce, we can also look into additional human capital strategies such as grooming employees for leadership roles, providing better incentives, and investing in upskilling and reskilling, as we progress on our Industry 4.0 journey,” he adds.

“If anything, the IHCI programme has given them an exciting glimpse into the future of work.”

However, the path ahead is not without challenges, as Mr Lee notes. “Exploring new ways to conduct operations and changing established, ingrained procedures, while still delivering business objectives and managing costs, is a tricky balance.”

Conscious of the return of investment required, AEM ran its Industry 4.0 with minimal financial risk to litmus test feasibility and business impact. This approach allowed the company to grow confidence in scaling up the company’s Industry 4.0 efforts, he observes.

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