Going the Lean way…


Singapore has around 180,000 local SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises) which make up 99% of the enterprises in Singapore and contribute to nearly half of the GDP while employing 70% of the workforce, according to SPRING Singapore.

For them, operating in today’s slowing economic backdrop is definitely quite a struggle. Companies are freezing headcount and slowing down recruitment while business costs are rising.

Lim Swee Say

To mediate this problem, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say reiterated his call to move to a 1+2=3 economy – 1% workforce growth, 2% productivity growth to give 3% GDP growth.

This means that more than just hiring more manpower, businesses should focus more on productivity in order to grow.

And to give SMEs a headstart to become more manpower-lean and productive, the Manpower Ministry launched the Lean Enterprise Development.

At a recent learning journey for SMEs in the cleaning sector, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say had this to say:

“Becoming manpower-lean is no longer an option. For companies that are prepared to do so and take the first step, the Government will help you to adopt the new mindset and provide the necessary support to facilitate your lean manpower-lean journey.”

But this is only on the business front. How then, can workers in SMEs who account for 70% of the country’s workforce benefit from all these initiatives?

Will it come to a point that the government initiatives benefit companies and businesses, and the workers are left bereft of better welfare and working conditions?

At present, workers within the SMEs are not unionised under the NTUC’s 61 unions and associations. But to tackle that, the NTUC set up the U SME initiative, which has seen 42 Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) signed to cover 70,640 workers across 3,099 companies.

Chan Chun Sing-1

In a blogpost written in February, labour chief Chan Chun Sing noted that the pool of workers in SMEs which account for 70% of Singapore’s workforce must be included in NTUC’s outreach “if the Labour Movement is to take care of ALL our workers…”

He reiterated this in another blogpost published today. He said that the Labour Movement will develop new models of outreach to work with SMEs through their associations to help SME bosses run their operations better to benefit their workers, amongst other models.

But beyond working with SME bosses to innovate and be more productive so that those gains can be shared with workers, perhaps what SME workers like other workers need, is the opportunity for training and development to rise up the ladder or switch careers.

Chan in his blogpost said:

“The new generation is no longer contented to work only in one job or just for pay…Add to that changing business models and more frequent and intense business cycles, “job hopping” amongst the newer generation can be expected. But that also means that greater need for constant upgrading is now the new norm.”

Hence, the need for training of workers to be future-ready and job-ready.


It may look unusual for a Labour Movement, after all, which other labour movement in the world, looks at taking care of workers other than those in its ambit? Which other labour movement collaborates with the government and employers to boost productivity for businesses and encourages workers to upskill and re-skill?

Image Credits: Channel NewsAsia, Todayonline, mothership.sg, Todayonline.

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Arthur Lee

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