Building an outstanding workforce requires putting employee wellbeing at the centre of talent development strategies.
From collaborating to coaching, digital platforms provide helpful solutions for managing a cross-generational workforce.
As organisations continue to adapt to the next normal, opportunities are ripe for driving a better experience for employees by focusing on key elements including personal and career development opportunities, purpose, and most importantly, wellbeing. As companies seek to attract and retain talent, identifying innovative ways to support and engage a multigenerational workforce has become more challenging than ever.
For the Q1 2022 issue’s cover story, we have invited organisations from different industries to share their insights and various ways they are taking care of their employees’ wellbeing, recruiting talent remotely, and managing a cross-generational workforce.
A multifaceted talent management approach
With its headquarters in Hong Kong and operations across Asia, Jardine Engineering Corporation (JEC) has implemented multipronged talent management strategies designed to attract and retain talent. JEC believes its workforce holds the key to achieving future goals through empowerment, alliance, and career development. While the role of engineers is not always fully understood, the COVID-19 health crisis underpinned the vital role engineers play in carrying out maintenance to keep transport systems functioning, residential and commercial properties safe, and operational and construction projects on target.
Reflecting on the outcomes and various lessons learned over the past two years, Philip Chiu, JEC Executive Director, Human Capital and Communications, noted while the COVID-19 pandemic has required virtually every aspect of talent management to be reimagined, employee health and wellbeing are crucial to the organisation’s continuity. From the outset of the health crisis, with about 700 of JEC's 1,600 Hong Kong workforce engaged in frontline roles, in addition to providing protective equipment and a safe working environment, JEC implemented paid vaccination leave, on-site health screening, mental wellbeing workshops and various employee support measures. The company also introduced COVID-19 vaccination incentives when vaccines became available. “Maintaining a purpose-driven company based on safety and wellbeing remains the key to business success,” said Chiu.
As challenging as the past two years have been, Chiu said JEC has maintained its recruitment activities, including recruiting young talent to join the company's well-established Apprenticeship Training Programme and Management Trainee Programme. He pointed out that the company's 2-year Management Trainee Programme is a crucial factor in developing and retaining a future-orientated, multi-talented workforce.
With this in mind, facilitated by JEC's HR function, informal monthly gatherings are arranged among trainees, new joiners, and senior management. “The aim is to enable management and employees to get to know one another on a deeper level,” Chiu elaborated. The informal interactions allow management to communicate JEC's strategic initiatives while employees can talk about their expectations, motivations, and aspirations. “The meetings help us to understand what employees are thinking and see if the company is in a position to meet their expectations,” he said. “We want our colleagues to know we are interested in their views and opinions.”
Also driven by JEC's HR function, a cross-discipline, multi-generational task force involving staff possessing a few months to decades of experience has been established, to brainstorm innovative ideas and offer suggestions to management. “We work on the principle that great ideas can be developed from small ideas,” Chiu said. The feedback provided a lens through which to shape and enhance strategies for adaptation to the new world of work. “We make it clear, there are no ideas we are not prepared to consider,” he stressed.
Engage and empower
With in-person learning and development interactions either limited or put on hold due to the need for social distancing, JEC has implemented alternative ways to reinforce employee connection between teams and individuals. Utilising digital platforms, staff across all levels of seniority participate in online skills and experience sharing workshops. “Sharing knowledge and experiences empowers individuals while transferring skills help to build alliances, which ultimately strengthens workforce capabilities,” Chiu said. After the initial adjustment from traditional face-to-face interactions, enthusiasm for online workshops has grown significantly.
“Many of our colleagues find it more convenient to set up an online meeting than book a meeting room in the office,” Chiu said. He added that online empowerment and alliance initiatives are beneficial in other ways. For instance, people from different disciplines and departments join group and one-to-one sessions. Pre-COVID, this would happen less frequently because engineers and apprentices tend to work in different locations. “We are seeing less top-down interactions based on seniority and more collaboration and experience sharing,” Chiu noted.
The digital realm has also proved useful for JEC's online recruitment processes by providing access to a wider talent pool. Even though it can be a challenge to read the nuances of body language through a screen, Chiu said talent managers have become adept at conducting the hiring process virtually. “There is not a great deal of difference between conducting an online recruitment interview and a face-to-face interview when the interviewer and interviewee are wearing masks,” he said.
Chiu also cited the use of technology as a game changer in boosting the employee experience as well as day-to-day operation efficiency. Prime examples include new ways of collaborating and innovating by converting manual processes such as checklists, reporting, and projections to apps. “Technology enables us to do things we were unable to do previously,” Chiu mused. Because engineers have been able to use remote technology to monitor and control on-site applications during the pandemic, it has contributed to looking after their wellbeing. Simultaneously, data, including data used for talent management purposes, is helping to develop and shape the employee experience.
ESG as a lever to attract and retain talent
As environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors become increasingly crucial to how an organisation's purpose and impact is viewed, JEC is currently working on its first ESG report and more importantly, the strategy framework that maps out the focuses for the years ahead. Numerous studies have shown that, both jobseekers and existing employees increasingly want to find a purpose in life and are seeking out employers that share their values. Explaining the company's rationale, Chiu said while JEC already has its own comprehensive environmental controls in place and helps public and private organisations to achieve their sustainable targets, the aim is to raise awareness of what ESG means to colleagues across the group.
Narrow the gender gap
While it is widely recognised that workforce diversity contributes to higher levels of creativity, innovation, and performance, in Hong Kong, the ratio of female to male engineers remains stubbornly low. According to the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, women make up about 8% of its members. However, diversity initiatives in some Hong Kong firms aim to increase this number. JEC is one of the companies actively seeking to attract more females to the engineering industry. In addition to changing perceptions that engineering is the domain of males, the strategy includes increasing the number of female fresh graduates recruited to join company's management trainee programme, weighted to 40%, approximately the same as the percentage of females graduating annually from Hong Kong universities.
Chiu explained, while the strategy is a work in progress, by recruiting females at the beginning of their career journey, in five or six years they will be ready to take on more senior roles. “We would like to see more female engineers as mentors and role models to support our talent succession plans,” he said. Reiterating that the success of JEC is built on its people, Chiu said, “We are continuously working on various fronts and strategies, both traditional and non-traditional, to attract and retain talent.”