This article was first published on 24 August 2020 and has been updated with additional reporting.
From a human resource (HR) perspective, 2020 has been a challenging year. Whether it’s having to deal with team members working remotely, needing to ensure safe-distancing measures that comply with MOM requirements if you are working out from an office, or having to tell employees they are no longer required in the company.
As such, it should be no surprise that businesses are not rushing to add to their existing headcount. As anyone who has to manage a team before would tell you, the more people you have working under you, the more likely you will have problems managing them. And that’s not something companies and hiring managers want as they adjust to the new work-from-home environment.
That said, if you are a Singapore employer who has the appetite to expand your team during the COVID-19 recession, there are some benefits to doing so in 2020.
You Can Tap On Government Schemes
To encourage companies and their workers during this period, the Singapore government has introduced a slew of measures to support job retention and growth. These include the Job Support Scheme (JSS), which help subsidise the cost of local employees up to $4,600.
Besides the JSS, companies can also tap on the SGUnited Traineeship Programme (for graduates in 2019 and 2020) and the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme (for those who did not graduate in 2019 and 2020). Both programmes are heavily subsidised as 80% of the training allowance for the traineeship/attachment will be paid by the government.
This means if you hire a person for $2,500 per month under one of the programmes, the government will co-pay $2,000.
While there is no official employer-employee relationships, the traineeship/attachment is an excellent opportunity for companies to expand their headcount, with the aim of converting some of the trainees into full-time positions if they do well.
More recently, the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) was also introduced to encourage companies to retain their employees and bring forward their hiring intentions. The JGI gives companies 25% and 50% salary support for new local employees who are under 40 and 40 and above respectively.
So while hiring managers should continue to be careful of the cost of a mis-hiring, it’s worth noting that the schemes do help, to a certain extent, reduce the financial risk of a wrong hire.
Government Schemes To Transform Your Business
During recessions, companies tend to (rightly) prioritise their cash flow and limit expenses that is not required for immediate business operations. The government helps companies, especially those most affected or most likely to benefit, overcome this by offering various support measures.
The main of these schemes is usually to ensure companies keep up with modern solutions by digitalising their business process and training new and existing employees to utilise new digital tools. This can increase company productivity as well as enable them to use the downtime more effectively to position for growth when the economy turns.
In doing this, the government has enhanced subsidies on many existing programmes, such as the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and Enterprise Development Grant (EDG). It has also introduced new Schemes such as the $10,000 SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit (SFEC) to provide even more support to transform your company.
Another relatively new scheme is the Start Digital Pack, an initiative under the SMEs Go Digital programme. SMEs can take up any two solutions – accounting, HR management & payroll, digital marketing, digital transactions, cybersecurity – at no cost for at least six months with an 18-month contract. SMEs can apply for the Start Digital Pack from partners such as OCBC.
Companies who still want to retain cash flow can also tap on government-assisted loan programmes such as the Temporary Bridging Loan Programme.
For a full list of government assistance, companies can also visit the government’s GoBusiness Gov Assist website.
You Can Tap On A Wider Pool Of Available Talent
If you have been interviewing extensively over the past few months, you may have noticed the pool of job applicants in 2020 is not only larger, but include many quality candidates.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the number of job opening reduces, even quality fresh graduates and experienced hires who would have no problem securing a job in previous years are finding it harder to get a job in 2020.
If you are looking to hire in 2020, it would be easier to find talents that you otherwise may not even get to interview in other years. Moreover, if you are willing to hire, teach and provide a work opportunity, you will find no shortage of quality candidates who will be grateful for the opportunity to join your company.
Choosing The Right Candidates May Be Tricker
However, as with every opportunity comes potential pitfalls that bosses and hiring managers need to be aware of.
With a much bigger pool of applicants, we also need to select the right candidates carefully. Based on our experience and having spoken to a few hiring managers, during this job climate, too many job seekers are just applying for any job that they can find, even though they have no real interest in the job. Some may even have intentions to continue applying for jobs they really want even after being hired in another role.
As a hiring manager, you need to differentiate between quality candidates who are keen to take up a specific role at your company, and those whose only motivation is to get a pay cheque during this period.
If you can differentiate between the two, you can find good employees who can help you build the company over the long-term. If you can’t, then you may end up hiring people who just wants a job and who have no real intention of staying once the economy recovers.
The Work-From-Home Challenge
As it is, working from home has already been seen by many as being more stressful compared to working in the office. And this, in spite of the fact that many work-from-home teams already had the luxury of working with one another physically for months or even years in the office, before the pandemic occurred.
So if we think that working-from-home with colleagues we already know for years is challenging, try doing that with people we have never worked with before.
Thus, it’s understandable that companies and their employees are not exactly in a rush to add more people to their team.
Economic Uncertainties Ahead
While most of us believe that the world will eventually recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is near-term uncertainty on when the recovery will happen, or if the recession may worsen before recovering.
As such, companies, even if they are keen to increase their headcount, may prefer taking a more prudent wait-and-see approach. They may hire if they feel strongly about a potential employee, rather than to aggressively search for workers to hire during this period.
Expanding your team during a recession can be risky. That said, given the available talent during this period and government support schemes that we may tap on, business owners should not completely disregard the possibility that 2020 may be a good year for them to expand their team for the future.
(Additional reporting by Dinesh Dayani)
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