This article is contributed by Yeo Wan Ling, Labour Member of Parliament and Director for NTUC’s Women & Family Unit & U SME. Any extracts must be attributed to the author. 18 January 2020.
We’re in the middle of the fourth Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0, as it is also known, points to the use of technology to help make processes more efficient while increasing productivity. It is characterised by rapid technological advancement and digitalisation, has created both possibilities and disruptions to economies across the globe.
This, coupled with new challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has made job redesign an important strategy and priority for companies’ business transformation and survival.
Now, wait a minute.
If you think this article is going to rehash the virtues of productivity improvements, as with most articles about job redesign, think again. The idea of job redesign as a chapter in the business or economic journal needs to be challenged. There is great value to discuss this topic with a social-economic consideration that can positively impact women’s development.
Redesigned Jobs vs. Work
Let’s start with the basics.
What is the difference between a job and work? We use these two terms interchangeably, but open a dictionary and you will find that the word ‘job’ refers to the regular work that a person does to earn money. Meanwhile, ‘work’ is an activity, such as a job, that a person uses physical or mental effort to do, usually for money.
Essentially, job redesign involves taking another look at what work should be done in a job and how it should be carried out; and changing it to make work more effective and/or efficient for us.
Therefore, the most critical step in redesigning a job is to identify and examine its current processes, tasks, and activities, and to understand human behaviour, interactions, and inputs in doing work.
For example, many women leave their jobs because they cannot perform their work in a way that allows them to meet their family demands at the same time. By rethinking and redefining how, when and where work can be performed, new possibilities can be created for women to earn a living and achieve career success. Companies also stand to benefit as they can tap on a larger talent pool.
Shaking off Gender Stereotypes in Jobs
It is no surprise that we see a growing number of women looking for opportunities in non-regular jobs that allow them to exercise choice and flexibility.
Nurismawati Sohri, a mother of four children, became a freelance tutor after leaving her full-time job when she was pregnant with her third child. With her experience in the education sector, Nuris decided to also take up a part-time opportunity in the early childhood sector as a childcare assistant teacher. She is now able to enjoy her work and have the flexibility to spend time with her children.
At this point, you are probably thinking: “Sure, it’s easy for women to find such jobs in the education sector but can the same be said for other industries?” – a perception that’s perpetuated by both women job seekers and employers.
Jobseekers feel employers from sectors like logistics, supply chain and construction are not keen to hire women and thus, they hesitate to apply for open positions. Employers see very few women apply for jobs in these sectors, which reinforces the perception that such industries are not suitable for women.
I believe we can change this perception.
Creating Good Jobs for Women
In this vein, the NTUC Women and Family Unit and NTUC U SME are working together to help SMEs redesign work so that good jobs are available to women, and are not limited to specific sectors.
Take, for example, Bok Seng Logistics, a provider of integrated and project logistics management. The company has expressed interest in redesigning not only administrative but operational roles to attract women jobseekers. Imagine a woman in the driver’s seat of a truck or forklift! With the right application of technology, coupled with improved safety and hygiene standards, such jobs can be taken on by women too. By enhancing efficiency and raising productivity levels, working hours can be made more flexible, thereby increasing the appeal of these jobs to women.
The NTUC Women and Family Unit remains committed to the continuing efforts of tripartite partners in improving work-life harmony and building progressive workplaces. Over the past few months, we’ve been engaging our union leaders, members and today, employers, on how to better support the aspirations of working women as part of the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development.
Work is already underway, but there’s more we can do to encourage companies to redesign jobs and support women in the workplace.
Empowering Women for the Future of Work
The Government has played a big role in supporting companies to embark on job redesign, by making available grants like the Enterprise Development Grant and the sector-specific Productivity Solutions Grant. We hope there can be a review of these government grants to include the employment of women as one of the desired outcomes for job redesign.
Companies that are tapping on these government grants should be required to demonstrate how they can help place women into these redesigned jobs. We also urge the government to consider creating a dedicated scheme for companies to redesign work processes as well as work arrangements for women, to help support in their caregiving responsibilities.
Women make up half our population and form the backbone of our society and economy. Let’s work together to create jobs and support systems so that women are empowered to pursue their career aspirations, no matter what life stage they are in.