On the Talent Hunt: Unfilled vacancies have hurt our shipping firm. Our response is to modernise and digitalise
As companies across a wide range of sectors in Singapore are grappling with a manpower crunch in a tight labour market, TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts from business owners.
In this instalment, Ms Lyn Phun, 31, writes about overcoming long-held misconceptions about the maritime industry, the challenges of hiring staff at the shipping firm where she works and how it is transforming to keep older staff and draw new talent.
People’s lack of knowledge about the maritime industry, and their consequent misconceptions, mean it is not a popular career choice.
Often, people link maritime only to working aboard a boat. The immediate association of the perceived old school nature of the industry, poor working conditions where one has to work under the hot sun with little reprieve in the way of days off, as well as the lack of safety, are often deterrents when it comes to attracting talent, especially younger ones.
My company Eng Hup Shipping has not been spared.
Covid-19 exacerbated this issue, and we managed to hire only one new staff member out of six vacancies posted over the last two years.
The current manpower crunch has affected our business on two fronts.
First, we had to reject a number of long-term projects due to limited manpower, leading to a loss in potential revenue.
Secondly, the running costs for existing projects have increased significantly due to the rise in labour costs, resulting in erosion of operating margins.
As such, we decided to mitigate this challenge by embarking on a digital transformation roadmap to build a team of sea transport professionals who are equipped with dual skill sets and experience in both maritime and digitalisation.
With the support of Workforce Singapore’s Career Conversion Programme, we retrained five existing employees, three of whom are mature, with digital skills to help them become more productive in their daily job scope by allowing them to gain competencies and more importantly, confidence in using digital tools to assist them in their jobs.
This was done over a three-month period which consisted of facilitated classroom training and structured on-the-job training.
We have a 56-year-old colleague who was reskilled under this programme to take on higher value-added job tasks with an expanded job scope.
Previously, his role was to take the temperatures and perform security checks and verifications of passengers onboard the vessels manually. All these were done using hard copy handwritten checklists, reports and forms.
Now, such work processes have been digitalised, reducing repetitive tasks and paperwork.
As part of his new job scope, he is required to use real-time data collated from a new system implemented to perform data analytics and predictive maintenance of vessels, thus minimising disruptions to the company’s operations.
We also paired our experienced employees with the younger ones to encourage a transfer of knowledge.
While it was challenging for some of our mature employees to reskill at their age, they used it as a motivation to better themselves and to keep up with the latest trends.
We are also embarking on new business growth plans, such as sustainability, which will help us create new strategic opportunities for long-term business expansion.
By adopting an openness towards constant change and innovation, we hope to retain our older employees and also attract younger talents as part of our succession planning, especially since there are many career opportunities that touch upon fields such as technology and sustainability.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Ms Lyn Phun, 31, is head of corporate services at Eng Hup Shipping, which has 200 employees and 70 vessels. Incorporated in 1986, the company offers vessel chartering, terminal operations, and shipyard services for businesses across Asia.
If you are a business owner with an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.