There is no doubt that globally, the hospitality and tourism sectors were the worst hit by the pandemic as COVID-19 made travel difficult. And Singapore was no exception. As per the Jobs Situation Report (24th edition), during COVID-19, visitor arrivals fell by 85.7 per cent in 2020 to reach 2.7 million visitors, while tourism receipts declined by 82.6 per cent to $4.8 billion.
Consequently, driven by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies in the sectors had to accelerate their digitalisation plans to futureproof their business and their workforce. This becomes even more important as Singapore prepares for a safe reopening of its borders. The tourism and lifestyle services sector must be ready to meet the evolving demands of international travelers. With health and safety as a top priority, and consumers more accustomed to experiencing the world virtually, these sectors will need to tap on technology to elevate offerings and experiences.
In this very direction, to equip companies and workers with these capabilities and support the country’s economically vulnerable industries to capture new opportunities, Workforce Singapore (WSG) more than tripled the number of Career Conversion Programmes (CCP) for the sector since January 2020 by launching 18 new CCPs in consultation with union representatives and associations.
In addition, companies in the tourism and lifestyle services sector can also tap on the Service Industry Transformation Programme (SITP) which provides practical guidance on processes, products, or services that they can innovate through service design and digitalisation, as well as job redesign efforts.
In an interaction with us, Kenneth Wong, Director, Tourism Division at WSG shed light on how WSG has helped the vulnerable sectors to adopt technology, digitalise, and reskill their workers for the future of work.
Effect of pandemic on skills needed in tourism and hospitality
It is a well-known fact that tourism and hospitality have been one of the worst hit sectors by this pandemic. Given that traditional business models have been disrupted, tourism companies would need to pivot their business model to adjust to the new normal and to also futureproof their businesses through digitalisation.
Many traditional roles in areas such as event management, customer service, F&B and business development were redesigned or enhanced with digital skills sets such as e-commerce, data analytics and digital sales and marketing. Reacting proactively, companies in such sectors have seized this downtime to reskill employees and harnessed new digital technologies to rise above the crisis.
For instance, the Hotels, MICE, Attractions and Tour & Travel (HMAT) companies are exploring the use of AR/VR technology to augment customer experiences and engage them digitally amidst the pandemic. Some instances of this are hybrid MICE events and virtual tours of travel destinations.
Also, given the pandemic situation where border restrictions are in place and outdoor travels are minimised, consumers have turned to digital platforms for their purchases and entertainment. As such, it is imperative for the tourism sector to also accelerate and upskill their workforce to be equipped with knowledge in digital sales and marketing. Going forward some of the essential skill-sets needed in a post-pandemic world include e-commerce, digital marketing, data analysis, brand storytelling and food science.
Challenges in adopting new technology during the pandemic
“When it comes to the question of why hotels and food services companies have not embarked on new technology adoption, cash flow has been cited as a common reason. Some restaurants have indicated that introducing automation might also change the quality and authentic taste of their food,” said Kenneth.
For the retail sector, the lack of digital know-how and finding the right talent to embark on digital adoption posed challenges for some retailers, especially the small and micro ones. Some were still skeptical with the outcome and felt that they might not be ready to hire full headcounts especially when faced with dwindling sales revenue. Therefore, they might prefer to upskill their existing staff to double up the digital operations instead of hiring new staff to specialise in this aspect.
How WSG is supporting vulnerable sectors through CCPs and SITP
WSG more than tripled its Career Conversion Programmes (CCPs) for the tourism sector amidst this pandemic to help firms redesign jobs and reskill their workforce to equip workers with skills to adopt new technology so that they could assume in-demand roles such as Digital Strategist, Digital Marketing Executive/Manager, and Operations Executive (Digital Solutions).
As a result of these initiatives, from January 2020 to mid-August 2021, more than 3,100 workers from over 200 companies have benefitted from these CCPs for the tourism and lifestyle sector. This is a thirty-fold increase from the close to 110 workers from around 40 companies in 2019. The CCPs are expected to further benefit another 1,400 workers from now till December 2022.
Also, WSG has helped many food services companies to redesign their operation processes and reskill their workforce to better adopt digitalisation at the workplace. One such example is the homegrown food services provider Select Group. The company has been a consistently strong supporter of manpower-lean initiatives. They also believe in complementing these initiatives with employee development. In 2020, they tapped on the Job Redesign Reskilling Programme to prepare their workers for the post COVID economy. Consequently, automation of tasks such as order-taking and payment processing helped to raise productivity. This paved the way for job redesign and enhanced the job scopes. Through the programme, Select Group was able to equip close to 120 employees with new skills that allow them to better adopt and embrace digitalisation at the workplace.
Coupled with Career Conversion Programmes, the Service Industry Transformation Programme (SITP) has also benefited companies and equipped enterprises with problem solving tools and techniques to mitigate reliance on manpower, innovate and improve productivity through service design and digitalisation. About 60 companies have benefited from the programme since its launch in September 2019 to become more productive and manpower efficient.
Gearing up for the future of work
Kenneth believes that transformation has been well under way for years but has accelerated due to the pandemic.
“The world has become “hyper-connected” and digital technologies have been incorporated in our daily lives. Manpower is tightening as the inflow of workers is also being disrupted. Working remotely, using more technology, communicating, and collaborating virtually, conducting business online, and learning digitally all became the order of the day.”
Ultimately, digitalisation has provided many opportunities for businesses that were quick to adopt it. After all, embracing digital automation and keeping skills relevant to the technology demands are crucial for gearing up for the future of work.