How OCBC busts the fear factor over jobs upheaval

Singapore

THERE is fear that plagues some employees at OCBC when it comes to tackling the sensitive topic of the future of jobs, but the bank is determined to make sure that employees are trained to be prepared for the seismic changes in the job market.

This comes as the bank has in the last few years offered a suite of learning opportunities for more than 29,000 of its staff. In 2018 alone, more than 11,000 staff across the whole OCBC group have been trained in digital and fintech skills.

Staff got to pick from more than 5,500 training and development programmes, with 20 per cent of them related to fintech or digital skills.

As Jason Ho, head of group HR at OCBC put it: "We will leave no one behind. It's a public statement we make."

Speaking to The Business Times, Mr Ho said OCBC has broken down the numerous courses offered under Singapore's SkillsFuture programme to sieve out courses that are relevant to OCBC staff and that they can attend.

OCBC in 2018 said it will invest S$20 million over three years in its OCBC Future Smart Programme.

Under this programme, employees will receive training in seven domains, including digital business models and ecosystems, technology and data, as well as customer-centricity. OCBC staff will also go through four qualification standards to assess their level of skills: awareness, literacy, practitioner-level and mastery.

OCBC's staff on average spend the equivalent of about seven working days to attend classes that can touch on topics such as cybersecurity, coding, and data analytics. Major topics are broken down into bite-sized lessons, so staff may find the learning process less daunting.

OCBC has designed learning roadmaps for jobs in the organisation. It also has a dedicated learning hub at Tanjong Pagar Road, known as OCBC Campus.

"We are making sure that people are hungry, and are comfortable trying," said Mr Ho.

To Mr Ho, the retraining agenda at OCBC - and indeed, for the entire Singapore banking industry - is not just about throwing money behind the effort, but in creating a support system and watching for the "emotional" aspect of job transformation. This includes looking at the social pressures faced by the staff, who have families and relationships outside of work.

Having the right system gives employees the courage to take charge of their learning endeavours, he said.

The support comes right down to the design of the training application, to dissuade supervisors from blocking genuine efforts by staff to get the training they need.

This means that staff pick the courses, and typically would be allowed to attend unless the supervisor has "serious concerns" and flags them to the HR department for a review.

The bank has also looked at the granular design of the internal job posting process, which was started in 2003. After two years with the bank, employees can opt to transfer to a new department.

But critically, they can apply for a job switch without informing their current supervisor. Jobs are posted every Friday, and today, one out of eight jobs found across the regional network of OCBC is filled internally.

"We remove the awkwardness of the conversation," said Mr Ho.

More broadly, creating a pervasive learning culture at the bank - or what Mr Ho calls the "growth adaptability" of staff - can be difficult to quantify.

Mr Ho himself had stepped into brand new territory. He was formerly the bank's head of asset and liability management, before moving into the world of HR in 2015.

In adapting to the new business function, Mr Ho noted that there are many factors in HR that cannot be quantified, unlike his previous experience in looking plainly at numbers.

That the impact is on people, felt over the long term, and must be sustainable, are the unique elements of the HR function that keep Mr Ho on his toes, he said.

Still, there are some numbers that show how to keep staff on track with training. In measuring the impact of training on the staff, OCBC's HR department uses data analytics to review the impact on productivity in sales. But what underlines this productivity jump is a trend showing that if the supervisor shows active interest in the development of the staff, there is typically a greater increase in productivity.

Mr Ho rates OCBC's HR efforts at a seven out of 10 today. The next big step-up, by his description, will come when staff from different departments can gather to solve a problem at "the same frequency".

"There should be that connecting of mindset when there is a problem. When you walk into a meeting, you don't have to explain what actually happened. There is an issue, and everyone is able to chip in at the same frequency, seamlessly," said Mr Ho.

"It could be a utopia, but we should aspire towards it. Every time we aspire, we move the benchmark."