17 March 2014

Helping Older Workers and Women to Return to Work

17 March 2014

Given our rapidly ageing population and tight labour market, there is a need for employers to keep an open mind towards employing older workers and create opportunities to draw out stay at home mothers by allowing them to balance work with time for their kids.

How do we help these groups of workers who wish to return to work? How do we get employers to adopt progressive workplace practices to attract and retain these employees? That’s where the WorkPro programme comes in. But what goes behind the design and implementation of the programme? Here’s the inside scoop of WorkPro from the team who recently received the Minister for Manpower Award* in recognition of their outstanding contributions in developing a programme that has created positive impact. 

The ‘Field’ Work

WorkPro’s team comprises a mix of young and experienced officers from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s Manpower Policy Planning Division (MPPD), Labour Relations and Workplaces Division (LRWD), and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA)’s Workforce Growth and Development Division (WGDD). Colloquially referred to as ‘policy officers’, they research into manpower-related issues and develop policies or programmes to improve our employment landscape.

As a starting point, the team reviewed three expiring programmes targeted at increasing the employability of older workers and the economically inactives – ADVANTAGE, Flexi-works! and WOW! – to draw out elements of the programmes that worked and understand where it fell short. Meetings were arranged with key stakeholders such as the Singapore National Employer’s Federation (SNEF) and the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), to gather such feedback and obtain insights on the needs of employers and workers. 

Mr Ong Kieng Hwee (Principal Manager, WGDD) shared, “Stakeholders pointed out existing gaps and shared with us their wish list for targeted help to businesses and to workers. They asked for a consolidated programme, an easy application process and ultimately, more help all around.”

Redesigning and putting in place the nuts and bolts  

This spurred the team to come up with innovative ideas to address the different problems encountered by businesses and individuals. There were suggestions to provide funding for productivity consultants to help companies with job redesign, and an Age Management Grant that would train companies to manage an age-diverse workforce. 

To further understand the barriers faced by back-to-work locals, the team sought out potential applicants, and conducted interviews with employers, employees and consultants. 

Work Life Balance
The team gathered feedback from various stakeholders, including 
older workers, back-to-work women and economically inactive locals

From the insights gathered, a three-day job preparation workshop was developed to help economically inactive locals set job expectations and pick up interview skills to boost their confidence. The team even came up with the idea of retention bonuses to encourage back-to-work locals to stay longer on the job and a mentorship scheme with a mentor allowance of $100 to help back-to-work locals better adjust to working life. To further lower the re-entry barrier, a transport allowance was also considered to help back-to-work locals alleviate the initial costs of returning to work.  

Kieng Hwee said, “While these new ideas offered the needed help, we were also mindful that the application process has to be kept simple or the public would find it too troublesome to give it a try. After all, our first focus was on key feedback that both the public and businesses felt inundated with the many government programmes along with their complicated application processes and multiple touchpoints.”

All this culminated in the merging of ADVANTAGE, Flexi-works! and WOW!, along with the various new incentives into a brand new programme called WorkPro. WorkPro is a one-stop funding support programme for employers and employees, which SNEF and NTUC jointly manage. It helps employers improve their workplace practices and enhance work-life harmony, so that back-to-work locals and mature workers could become more job ready, rejoin the workforce and stay in their jobs. “WorkPro is about Productive Workers and Progressive Workplaces – key objectives that we hope to achieve through the various initiatives,” shared Kieng Hwee.

Getting more on board WorkPro

To ensure ample outreach to the programme’s target audience, the team worked with the People’s Association (PA), and officially launched WorkPro at the “Weaving Family and Work” event, jointly organised by PA, WDA and Women’s Integration Network (WIN) on 7 April 2013. To help more stay at home mothers and older individuals understand how WorkPro can help them, the team recruited the first batch of 12 WorkPro Ambassadors, comprising volunteers from WIN associates, to explain the programme and help residents realise the benefits of returning to the workforce. The event attracted over 2,000 participants, and on that day alone, over 750 job applications were received from individuals who were keen to benefit from WorkPro!

Work Life Balance
WorkPro Ambassadors received Certificates of Appointment from 
Acting Minister for Manpower Mr Tan Chuan-Jin during the Weaving Family and Work event

In just nine months since its launch, more than 700 companies have come on board WorkPro. The team was encouraged with the take-up rate and clearly heartened that their efforts have borne some fruit so far.

But, the work does not end there. Ms Cheryl Leow from WGDD explained, “We are following up on a number of issues. Sometimes, companies or employees need specialised advice about how to effectively implement WorkPro in their workplaces. We listen to their problems and get the right agencies to help them. We also actively study other best practices and gather feedback to refine the programme, because while take-up has been healthy, we know that we can do even more to improve workplaces in Singapore.”

All in a day’s work

It took close to a year, many cups of coffee and late night snacks for the WorkPro team to transform an idea to a program which was successfully rolled out. The process was long, and many changes were made along the way. But, the team unanimously agreed that it was exciting to be part of the drive to make a difference. Working closely with one another and the tripartite partners had given them a keener sense of whether WorkPro would take off or it had to be tweaked to make it more accessible to companies and individuals. From designing the parameters of the scheme, to deciding on its name and helping out with the publicity campaign, everyone was actively involved in the entire process. 

“There were indeed some challenging times for us working on the project, as we each had different views on how best to develop the programme. But this contributed to richer discussions with our stakeholders on the ground, and we worked through problems as a team. Keeping the end in mind all the time really helped us to focus. It was hard work, but everyone derived satisfaction from developing WorkPro, and making a difference together!” Mr Tan Wei Long, from MPPD, said.

Well said and well done, Team WorkPro! We look forward to seeing more positive change come from the work of our policy officers.

Interested in tapping on WorkPro? We encourage employers and jobseekers to learn more by clicking here.

* The Minister for Manpower Award is presented to officers (from MOM and our Statutory Boards) who have demonstrated outstanding achievements or contributions in a project or assignment with positive impact.

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