Job redesign might just be the solution to Singapore's talent crunch

09 February, 2023

This article was contributed to and first published in The Business Times on 9 February 2023.

Amid Singapore's decreasing birth rate, ageing population and the need to re-balance the reliance on foreign labour, it's time employers explore the "blue ocean" of non-traditional talent segments - but that's just the half of it.

For this to work, businesses will need to provide compelling job propositions to attract and retain these talent segments. Meanwhile, the existing workforce must not be overlooked. They too must be re-engaged in the fight to retain them in Singapore's workforce.

This is where job redesign becomes imperative. While the concept is easily understood, like any change management (for example, digital and ESG transformations), specialised expertise is required to transform successfully.

To facilitate real change, a tripartite collaborative approach involving governmental support, business will, and cooperation of the population is critical. Here, we zoom in on some considerations targeted at these three talent segments:

Caregivers looking to return to the workforce

According to the Labour Force in Singapore 2021 report, there are more than 250,000 family caregivers, of whom close to 240,000 are women, who are looking to re-enter the workforce. The way their job roles are redesigned must suit their season of life. That said, many will need workforce assimilation assistance as they make their re-entry.

Employers will need to reimagine how they can strike a balance between driving productivity and building a culture that embraces non-traditional work arrangements. Work should evolve from the traditional "9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday in the office", and the real proxy of how well a person is doing at work should be their performance and achievements.

While existing government support built around job redesign helps, what would be welcomed in the upcoming Singapore Budget are programmes designed to match non-traditional talent segments with willing employers, new grants to help employers alleviate workforce re-entry- or assimilation-related costs, and personal tax relief to encourage re-entrants to return.

Digital nomads

Skills shortage is also felt by businesses that are readjusting their foreign talent pool in response to Singapore's tightening employment passes criteria. In an already tight labour market, digital nomads can provide near-term relief by filling the current vacuum left by former foreign employees.

For this to take off, employers need to first allow flexible work arrangements along with work-from-anywhere programmes that accommodate time differences, virtual workplaces and more, and know-how to navigate the tax, immigration as well as labour regulations at play.

While special short-term "digital nomad passes" will be required for this talent segment, one would also hope for a less onerous application process compared to the long-term passes. If successfully introduced, this move can provide businesses easier access to the readily available revolving talent from outside Singapore without creating a permanent strain on the city's infrastructure.

The incumbent and largely disenfranchised workforce

From "lying flat" to "quiet quitting" to the "great resignation", seemingly for the first time, the world is seeing a workforce that feels disengaged and disenfranchised. What this translates to is arguably a lower labour participation rate and reduced workforce productivity - further exacerbating the talent crunch.

So, what are employees looking for? PwC's Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 - Singapore Highlights found that while 61 per cent of Singapore responses cited financial reward as the most important factor, a close 58 per cent named job fulfilment and 55 per cent stated "being their true self". Employers would be remiss to overlook their employees' needs; it's after all to both sides' benefit to land on a win-win outcome.

To re-engage this talent segment, the best move for employers is to take progressive measures where jobs and rewards are built around employees' needs. Traditionally, employers take a top-down perspective to determining these aspects, but there is a need to reimagine a bottom-up crowd-sourced and tech-enabled approach to build a productivity- and wellness-centric workforce.

A well-tailored rewards system, powered by predictive and preference-based analytics, can effectively address employees' expectations at individual levels. Adopting such a data-centred reward philosophy and investing in the right technology not only helps improve workforce engagement, it can also optimise total remuneration costs.

And, of course, job roles need to be re-designed to be more purposeful and fulfilling. Upskilling, employee engagement, empowerment and mobility are all crucial job-redesign considerations.

On this front, policy changes alone may not be sufficient to yield meaningful outcomes. Managers and leaders need to be upskilled in effective job and workforce redesign - effectively introducing a new operating model that requires a change in mindset and work culture, supported by technology and revamped work processes.

As a professional services hub, Singapore can consider funding the development of industry-wide job redesign capabilities. This can be done through investing in research, people-centred leadership upskilling, and resource and support networks to facilitate job redesign transformation across the ecosystem as well as to encourage businesses and the workforce to work as one.

At a national level, and while unorthodox, Singapore can consider enabling local residents easier access to short-term digital nomad opportunities by working with foreign governments on reciprocal arrangements.

This can open up overseas job opportunities for Singaporeans. While this seems antithetical to talent retention, when addressing an already disengaged demographic, affording them mobility and opportunities to gain new exposure can help avoid permanent talent loss from Singapore's workforce.


There is no doubt that job and workplace redesign is a complex endeavour. With the battle for talent intensifying, the time has come for employers and policymakers to think outside the box, keeping in mind that talent will always be a key asset and greatest value generator for any business.

To ensure long-term and sustained outcomes, businesses and communities need to restructure their mindset to shift away from traditional work arrangement concepts and embrace a future workplace that better caters to all.

Get in touch with our authors

Noel Goh

Workforce Rewards Leader, PwC Singapore

+65 9048 8695


Martijn Schouten

Workforce Transformation Leader, PwC South East Asia Consulting, PwC Singapore

+65 9667 4961


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