Thursday, February 04, 2010

Improve productivity in Singapore

The Minister for Manpower has said that Singapore firms need to improve their productivity and should not rely on low cost foreign workers. If they are unproductive and cannot survive, they have to move out of Singapore.

There has been talk about improving productivity for the past two decades. How far have we gone in this area? What can be done to have a sustainable improvement in productivity?

Let us identify some of the issues to be addressed:

a) Many organisations improved their productivity by pushing the work on to their customers. Many government agencies adopt this approach and pushes the burden to the citizens. For example, by asking the taxpayers to do e-filing, the work is done in a less productive way and take more time by the taxpayer who are not familiar with the website.

b) Many problems are not solved effectively because of the fine lines that are drawn between one agency and another. Much effort is spent on identifying who should be dealing with the problem, rather than how the problem can be dealt more effectively.

c) There is excessive emphasis on security and audit, which cause a lot of unproductive work. Most people want to play safe, and forget that these measures add to the cost, especially in paying consultants who exaggerate the risks.

If these issues can be addressed, we can reduce a lot of wasted work. The easiest and most effective way to  productivity is to cut down waste.

Please share your views.

Tan Kin Lian


Anonymous said...

REX comments as follows,

re issue (a)
Productivity is also a function of time. When a productivity-related initiative is commenced, ironically the productivity will drop, becasue there is learning curve for everybody. That is to say, the IRAS efiling for individuals, it is a big hassle when the system first introduced. But assuming the efiling system is properly designed, which i think it is, then after some time, more people can file their returns in a quicker manner, and the productivity objective is achieved. It really boils down to whether the productivity initiatieve is properly designed or not, i don't really agree that it is "pushing the work on to their customers" since even if taxpayers do manual returns, they also have to go through some hassle (getting pen and paper, thinking how to fill in the boxes, etc, same same).

Issue b.) concerning the issue of why time is wasted to "identify who should deal with the problem" instead of solving the problem, this is difficult for a big corporation which applies division of labour principle. It is the price to pay for specialisation. IT is hard to find someone in the complex organisation who knows every detail of every process, so it is quite difficult to avoid spending time to get a query "to the proper channel". However i do agree that organisations should try to reduce such finding-proper-channel time, indeed it is unproductive.

Re. Issue C, i don't have visibility of this so i have no comment.

Finally, i would like to cite one instance of productivity increase, related to your phrase "push the burden to citizens".
Look at the supermarkets. In Australia and many other countries, the counter staff cashiers just punch in the amounts. The customers are obliged to pack the items into the bags at the same time. This saves time right? Productivity is improved. The queue is shorter.
In Singapore, it is quite absurd, a very long queue form because the customer just stand and do nothing waiting for the cashier to pack the stuff as well as punch the costs into the machine. I wish that the customer could share the burden, help to pack the stuff in the bag - it's better than stand like a dummy waiting for this to happen. So "passing the burden to the customer" actually does improve productivity, if the system is properly designed.


C H Yak said...

Productivity and production cost are rhetorically two separate issues.

Productivity leads to lower head counts and lower production costs. Switch to foreign labour may be a cheaper mean of production and cut cost. It does nor necessarily improve productivity per se.

"The Minister for Manpower has said that Singapore firms need to improve their productivity and should not rely on low cost foreign workers."

By this, does he means that if local firms improve productivity, then there is no need to rely on foreign labour. Is he suggesting that local Singaporeans are less productive? I think there is no basis to support this argument.

Singaporeans rely on foreign workers just because they are simply cheaper, not necessarily because they are more productive.

Both local and foreign workers can be productive but there is valid cause to explain the relative difference in wage expectations.

Wage expectations may affect motivation of workers and lower their productivity. This expectation could be relative and not mutually exclusive in results. The pros and cons could be argued both ways.

Workers generally can be efficient. But they may not be necessarily effective.

2 workers could do the same things delegated to them 100% without errors. But one say take 1 hour and the 2nd say take 2 hours. The first is more effective. Producvity can only improve if workers are effective, and not just efficient. Put this aside, both can still cost differently in terms of wages and their expectations.

Productivity also depends on the firm operating as a whole. Efficient and effective management?

I agree with Mr Tan that systems and procedures should stay simple. This is more effective. Business process re-engineering to cut out the "wastages" in terms of "procedures" in critical.

Anonymous said...

REX comments as follows,

re, ChYak: quote
The Minister for Manpower has said that Singapore firms need to improve their productivity and should not rely on low cost foreign workers." unquote

In fact i recall reading a minister saying that if singaporean's productivity is increased we may have lesser dependence on foreign labour in future.

You are right CHYak, there is no basis to support this argument.

In the first place, foreign labour came into the picture because there is no min. wage in Singapore, it's nothing to do with productivity per se. The government twist the story around and blamed the citizens, i was very furious when i read the minister's statement in Straits Times about a week ago i recall.

"productivity" is a very abstract concept. The goverhment chose to hide behind this highfaluting concepts and confuse the ordinary worker into thinking that the onus is on him 100% of the time to perform like superman. This adds a lot of stress whilst the slave drivers just sit back and relax not even realising that for sure, they are, in reality, the supreme example of Unproductivity: where else in the world the citizens have to pay 4 times every month, to 1xMM, 1xSM, 1xPM, 1x President, to give the same policy which is anyway dictated by one person anyway among the 4.

So actually, this PAP government is by far the MOST UNPRODUCTIVE ENTITY in singapore, high wages and extremely low output (usually negative as in the losses of GIC, TH, STuyv Town) scene - uniquely singapore. The first step to improve productivity, is to retain MM, and drop the remainder. 4 times productivity increase, instant effect!


jamesneo said...

I feel that wages that are more fair will lead to increased productivity as it will reduce but not eliminate the job hopping phenomenon prevalent in the modern society. Each new employee need many months of training. For example, in manufacturing training for safety, equipment usage takes considerable time.
Many of the SMEs and asian MNCs do not encourage innovation in their company policy. For example, they seldom have effective avenue and motivation for local workers to suggest better procedures or other suggestions.
One main issue that have to be addressed is the need to appear working longer hours than your boss. However, many of the longer hours are actually idling around doing things like surfing net or stoning.

Anonymous said...

Ministers can improve productivity by cutting their salary by 10 times. Year in year out, the ministers are not doing anything different. So why the huge, fat salary?

I guess their logic is that no one else in the civil service should draw a salary more than them even though they may have worked for many years. Reason? He is a MINISTER.

Anonymous said...

if unproductive citizens are asked to leave the country..i think e authority can help them to transit out of the bestowing them some refugee status rights so that they can move out easier

Kyaw Kyaw Naing / George said...

First let increase our effectiveness first.

Adn I believe effectiveness is more important than productivity. Please correct me if I get it wrong.


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