October 2014 | Debjani Ray

Skilling up in Singapore

NatSteel's upskilling initiatives are tied to the Singapore government’s aim of building a more competitive workforce

In a challenging economy, one way to stay ahead of the curve is to invest in developing the capabilities of people. And that’s what Singapore-based steel maker NatSteel Holdings is doing.

NatSteel has set up an academy to train its workforce with the latest learning required in a competitive market
NatSteel, a subsidiary of Tata Steel and part of the $100 billion Tata group, understands that giving its employees the knowledge and skills needed to work in a high-tech environment is critical — it makes employees feel valued, pushes them to aim higher and boosts the company’s profitability. Upskilling and training is also a key differentiator in attracting and retaining the best staff. In NatSteel’s case, upskilling enhances safety and saves costs, since workers can be trained to do the work of foreigners who used to be hired for steel making.

The company’s talent development initiatives are helmed by a Centre of Expertise and the NatSteel Academy (NSA), both set up by the human resources department. The academy has already been recognised for its good work — earning a certification as an ‘on-the-job training’ (OJT) provider from Singapore’s premier skilling institute, ITE. “As part of our OJT, we have senior, experienced workers taking juniors under their wings, consulting them regularly and guiding them in their work,” says Lucy Tan, chief HR officer, NatSteel.

NatSteel’s upskilling initiative is also part of a bigger picture, aligned as it is to the Singapore government’s thrust on skill building across industries. A report in 2010 by the Economic Strategies Committee (which advises the government on building capabilities for growth) had recommended a national effort to raise the skills and productivity of workers as the only viable way to enhance competitiveness. In line with this objective, the Singapore government identified certain industries such as manufacturing, construction, health care and finance as key to supporting the growth of important economic sectors.

NatSteel arranges to deliver training in a number of ways. Apart from the in-house NSA, workers get an opportunity to earn the best of national qualifications through the company’s tie-ups with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), the Employment & Employability Institute, the Institute of Adult Learning, NTUC Learning Hub, and the ITE. The NatSteel Academy also achieved a major milestone — accreditation as an approved training organisation to conduct in-house training under the Workforce Development Agency’s precision engineering Workforce Skill Qualification framework. The framework will provide a comprehensive skills upgrading platform for most of NatSteel’s employees — from the rank and file to supervisors.

Palani Baskar, a machine operator who has benefited from the in-house training says: “The OJT modules I completed have taught me a lot about the machines I am operating. Now, I can do my work more effectively.” NatSteel has been recognised for the quality of its upskilling programmes, but it is not resting on its laurels. To make sure that academy trainers are abreast of the latest developments in the industry, NatSteel is having them attend the WDA’s Workplace Trainer Programmes. According to Joseph Yong, NSA’s project sponsor and chief operating officer, sending trainers for training makes a lot of sense: “This helps us establish our talent base and knowledge management core, and places us in a stronger position to meet future challenges.”

Read more about Tata skilling initiatives around the world

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Grooming young talent in China
The TCS China University steps up to offer soft skills training in partnership with 25 universities across the country
IT's raining skills in Africa
In South Africa, TCS is empowering local talent by training students in a wide range of IT skills