Raise productivity with technology, multi-skill staff

SINGAPORE - If you have been served by staff at the Royal Plaza on Scotts (RP), you may notice that the same staff seem to be doing jobs usually done by different employees.

For instance, butlers at the hotel - traditionally known as waiters or servers - are trained in all aspects of the restaurant operations, ranging from greeting and seating guests to sharing of ingredients and food preparation methods with guests. They may also be assigned to provide in-room dining services or to the hotel's lounge to mix simple cocktails.

Broadening job scope and training staff to be multi-skilled are just some measures the hotel has taken since 2007 to boost productivity.

Yesterday, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) chief Lim Swee Say, union and government representatives, and industry players visited the hotel to learn how the hotel redesigned the job functions of staff and how it used technology to improve work processes.

With training and enhanced job scopes, this has led to an increase in workers' pay. For an RP butler, his pay can move up from $1,200 to $1,400. The employer also benefits. For example, At Carousel, RP's popular restaurant, profitability per staff has increased from $8,000 in 2007 to $25,000 in 2010, said the hotel.

Besides staff skill improvement, technology is also adopted to enhance the efficiency of various work processes.

Last year, the hotel rolled out motorised trolleys for its room attendants to transport tools and supplies from room to room. This has helped to halve the time taken to do the job. The hotel also recently implemented a passport scanner to facilitate updating of hotel guests' particulars at the Front Desk. The system removes the need for staff to do manual data entry and shortens the check-in process of guests.

For its effort to improve worker productivity and enhance work processes, the hotel received funding from the labour movement's Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP). The programme, administered by the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) run by the NTUC, improves the skills, productivity and wages of low-wage workers.

"Embarking on IGP encourages our workforce to upgrade their skill sets to ensure their employability in the long run. IGP plays a crucial role in the current situation as Singapore and the hospitality industry are facing the issues of ageing population and labour crunch," said Mr Patrick Fiat, General Manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts. "With the aid of technology, manual work for our employees is decreased and they are better deployed for job enlargements, resulting in a more fulfilling work life and increased productivity," he added.

"To raise productivity, it is important for us to break out of the old mould, and do things in a new way. Singapore cannot rely on sheer manpower to provide good service in our hotels. That may be what tourists get in island resorts in Southeast Asia but it is not tenable in Singapore. We have to develop our own brand of service, one which is efficient, professional, error free, and using a lot of technology, but relatively little manpower," said Mr Ong Ye Kung, Chairman of e2i.

To achieve the vision of sustainable growth and have better jobs and pay for workers, e2i and partners have set a few targets for the hotel sector.

Firstly, to train 30 per cent of the workforce to become more multi-skilled and make Workforce Skills Qualifications certification more widely recognised within the sector.

Next is to raise the level of technology and automation adoption to 40 per cent of hotels.

Workers will need to be trained to operate new technology and automated equipment, or undergo training to be multi-skilled to take on roles that require a wider set of skills.

Said Ms Margaret Heng, Executive Director of the Singapore Hotel Association, "Multi-skilling, cross deployment and the adoption of technology are top on the list of initiatives that hotels are looking at to increase productivity. The industry is cognisant that in the drive for higher productivity, there must be a balance between 'high tech' and 'high touch'. This is why hotels have factored in training in the productivity equation, so that the end result is that the hotel staff will be better equipped to provide not only an effective and efficient service, but one with a personal touch to make a difference to the guests."