On the Talent Hunt: Work-life balance in the construction sector? Yes, it’s possible — with some creativity
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, Mrs Sarah Tham, 41, an associate director at an engineering firm in the construction sector, describes the challenges the company has faced in hiring and retaining Singaporeans due to the long hours. Adopting family-friendly policies in creative ways has helped boost staff morale and alleviate the manpower crunch somewhat, she writes.
I work for a mechanical and electrical engineering firm in the construction sector.
Even before the pandemic, it was a herculean task recruiting Singaporean workers given the long hours and nature of our jobs. The situation is now even more challenging amid a tight labour market.
While we managed to complete projects which were delayed during Covid-19, we also clinched new jobs that needed project engineers on site.
Without sufficient manpower, our existing staff would be stretched more thinly, and we had to decline participation in some tenders over the past two years.
Thus, recruitment and retention have become a main focus for the company.
With work-life harmony a buzz phrase in recent years, we started looking at how we can change some practices to be a more appealing employer.
Construction is not the first industry that comes to mind when one talks about work-life harmony. It is even harder for a medium-sized enterprise like us due to our limited resources.
For instance, we found it difficult to implement some flexible work arrangements (FWAs) such as work-from-home (WFH) as our work requires our staff to be on site.
We realised that we had to be creative to achieve better work-life harmony.
First, we started allowing staggered reporting times for our office-based staff, who can choose a shift that suits their family commitments.
Second, for staff who need to be on site, we stepped up digitalisation efforts with cloud servers and a human resources (HR) mobile application so that they can work remotely from site offices and other convenient locations.
Supervisors are also given autonomy to provide staff with time-off to attend to emergencies.
By 2024, a new set of tripartite guidelines will kick in for employers to consider staff FWA requests fairly.
Before this takes place, we have started considering WFH requests for reasons such as caregiving and when employees’ children are sick.
These requests are approved by supervisors and HR to ensure that business needs are still met.
We believe that with family-friendly policies, our employees will feel more valued and committed to the company. This in turn boosts productivity and staff morale.
This is also why we have joined the Government’s “Made for Families” initiative to show our commitment towards families.
To further ease our manpower crunch, we work closely with the Building and Construction Authority to offer sponsorships and scholarships for students who will then join us under a bond after they graduate.
We recruited one graduate under the programme this year and are looking at hiring another.
We have also found that utilising digital tools such as Building Information Modelling, which incorporates 3D models to create and manage a construction project throughout its life cycle, help us attract young talents by showing that we are progressive.
With the easing of border restrictions, our manpower situation is definitely better now, but as we navigate these uncertain times, we will continue to adapt our strategies to ensure that our business and people goals can be met.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Mrs Sarah Tham, 41, is an associate director of DLE M&E, a mechanical and electrical engineering firm founded in 1975. It currently has over 300 employees.
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.