Learning skills can be a walk in the park

PHOTO: Learning skills can be a walk in the park
WRS' Mr Lee Meng Tat said the WSQ scheme allows workers to build up skills that are application to all its parks.

SINGAPORE - Staff members tend to have a pretty good idea about what is best for their organisation so it made perfect sense for Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) to take charge of its own training needs.

It became an accredited training provider in 2006, allowing it to provide Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) training and assessments.

Chief executive Lee Meng Tat said the scheme lets workers build up skills that are applicable to all of its parks - the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the upcoming River Safari.

"We have a group of people who have gone through the training and can deliver a certain level of service to our guests," said Mr Lee.

Similar standards are upheld in its other departments, including food and beverage (F&B) and operations.

WRS has 16 modules in tourism and F&B under the WSQ framework and will offer retail and landscaping courses next year.

Last year, it also started two new training programmes, the Recognition of Prior Learning and Train and Promote.

Employees who did not have prior formal training in areas such as tourism were able to attain WSQ diplomas by undertaking these programmes.

Courses such as these help WRS develop a multi-skilled workforce able to work in frontline jobs or backroom positions - a key benefit amid a tight labour market.

Human resources director Lim Kai Huat said some employees in its F&B department chose to do a diploma course in tourism to learn things such as budgeting and human resource management.

"In this way, we build up a multi-skilled workforce. An F&B manager, after going through the course, can be redeployed to operations," said Mr Lim.

The new courses, which came at a time when WRS was facing difficulties getting new workers for the River Safari, allowed existing employees to be promoted or deployed to form a core team at the new river-themed park.

One of them is Mr Abdul Halim, 45, who moved from being the head keeper at Night Safari to assistant curator at River Safari. Mr Lee said Mr Halim, a secondary school dropout with 17 years of experience at WRS, was able to make that leap after earning a diploma from the Recognition of Prior Learning programme.

With his new skills in planning and human resource management, Mr Halim can be a better mentor to new hires, said Mr Lee.

About 50 full-timers have been added to the River Safari team and the company is on the lookout for more.

Mr Lee admits it will be a challenge to build up a full team but there is still some time before the attraction opens in the first quarter of next year.

"In terms of labour, like a lot of Singapore companies, we do have an issue. For us, getting them to join is one thing, and for them to stay is another," said Mr Lee.

WRS has about 810 staff members. Its attrition rate is about 12.4 per cent, just under the 12.6 per cent across the hospitality industry.

"It's part and parcel of the business. You can't help it," said Mr Lee. "A lot of F&B guys have been trained, (should we) worry about them being taken away?"

WRS believes in developing its workers to their fullest potential.

Mr Lee said: "In spite of the problems, those who join us really like us. Our job is to make sure that the job continues to be interesting and rewarding for them to remain with us."

The company takes pride in its team, which has consistently done well in the annual Singapore Experience Awards, organised by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Three of its workers made it to the finals of the customer service category this year.

Mr Lee recalled when a manager expressed concern that one of them would be poached as other companies would now know how good she was.

His reply: "Would you rather that she not be nominated?"


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