The Labour Crunch: Keeping lean through productivity

What do you think of when the word “productivity” comes to mind?

To a worker, this may be interpreted as “more work”. To an employer, he will equate productivity with more profit. I think we can reasonably say that what’s beneficial for an employer, could spell more work for a worker. Workers are generally at a position of disadvantage and because of this, he is likely to be skeptical of his employer’s pursuit of productivity.

What we have now, is tension. On one hand, employees cannot be expected to work more without more money. On the other hand, an employer has no incentive in creating new processes if there is no profit in time and/or money to be had.

Productivity gains must make sense to all parties. Once upon a time, this was a side agenda, something to pursue only when time and resources allow. Today, with foreign worker dependency ratios cut, this is not so. Businesses have little option but to find new ways to do two immediate things:

1.) Lower the amount of labour required to do a piece of work and

2.) Make work more rewarding so that good employees stay

There are several ways around this:

  • Technology
  • Processes
  • Skills upgrading

Although some of these mechanisms can be implemented without having to spend a single cent, funding and support are generally big hurdles to cross. This is where funding comes in useful. In case you’re not aware, The Labour Movement (through e2i) has a program called the “Inclusive Growth Programme“, this funds businesses to improve work processes and share profit gains with their low wage workers.

We were invited to the NTUC’s “Learning Journey” event with the Holiday Inn Hotel. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get close to real life example of labour issues. This hotel put into place labour and cost saving mechanisms to reduce labour wastage, redeploy labour and generally increase productivity and profit to share with their employees.

Dual role of Security and Concierge

A security person’s job is only confined to the limits of patrol and security right? And a bell boy’s job is only limited to delivering bags and giving tourist advice? Traditionally, these roles pay low wages. For most of us, we think that one person can only have one skill and do one job. But in most other countries, this is not the case. One person should have a variety of skills so that he has the ability to be more productive and mobile. (Mobility not just to upgrade in one organization, but also for opportunities in other companies)

What the Holiday Inn has done, is train up concierge personnel with security abilities and vice versa. Skills Development Fund (SDF) pays for this education and licence. Staff are now equipped with a new, transferable skill and is able to do more, for example, distribute the newspapers whilst they perform security patrols.

With the implementation of a “Progressive Wage” model, junior bell boys and security people can now look forward to salary increases (to as much as $3000+) via career progression.

RFID and laundry

RFID chips works pretty much like your friendly ERP system. When an object passes a reader, it wirelessly transmits information for storage. Using this technology, what used to be the work of three people over hours of sorting linen, can now be executed by one person in 15 minutes. Manpower is now redeployed to other work, for example housekeeping.


Even staff uniforms are cleaned by this method. I wish I had this for my home – tap a card and an automated wardrobe delivers you your uniform.



Although the system costs about $100k to implement, 40% of this was paid for by funds from the “Inclusive Growth Program”. The savings far outweigh the cost of technology.

People with Disabilities

The hotel employs a people with disabilities and embraces them as “people with differences”. Take for example this 22 year old young man – he’s been trained to operate this machine and is now able to handle work that once required a small team of people.

But you know, I think for me, what the biggest takeaway was is this: alternative sources of manpower.

There is no need to just hire from foreign countries. Right here on our home ground, there are pools of manpower waiting to be tapped – students looking for extra money, retired workers who want to keep active, permanent part-timers such as stay-at-home-mums or individuals who prefer flexi-work and people with disabilities.

Labour crunch? Well, if a business has the ability to make breakthroughs, redesign their processes and invest in new technology – they’ll come out of this better off: leaner, more profitable and retain skilled, happy staff.





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