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Queen bee on guard: Securing future workforce, uplifting sector through integrated upskilling

Jewel Changi Airport is the crown gem and travel hub of the Asia-Pacific region. Opened to the public in April 2019, its glass dome resembles a multi-faceted jewel and boasts the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

Certis is the integrated operations technology service provider responsible for the security, facility management, and customer services for Jewel.

The Instagram and selfie geo-tag favorite had over 50 million visitors within the first six months of opening. Understandably, visitor numbers have dropped with the current COVID-19 global travel disruption, which has affected many in the industry including Singapore’s national carrier.

The Singapore-based security services company goes back to 1958 as the Guard and Escort Unit of the Singapore Police Force. In 1972 it became the Commercial and Industrial Security Organization (CISCO) under the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs. Privatized in 2005, it became Certis which is owned by Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government’s commercial investment company.

Prior to 2006, they hadn’t done security for airports. Certis now provides security and other visitor support services to airports in Singapore, Australia, and the Middle East.

Certis has 34,000 employees worldwide, including 16,000 in Singapore. Its revenue was $1.5 billion SGD in 2019, according to Forbes.

Backstage integration

Behind the scenes of Jewel’s indoor nature-themed environment is a microcosm of a humming workforce within an Industry 4.0 machine.

The Certis team leverages technology to execute its services through a platform called “Security+” which intensively provides monitoring and surveillance of Jewel Changi Airport. AI is used to analyze video and other system inputs. Service robots support security foot patrols.

Jewel Changi Airport became a showcase of a thriving ecosystem where multiple stakeholders collaborate and raise operational benchmarks. In this lush environment Certis has been called a “Queen Bee” by Ong Ye Kung, then Singapore Minister of Education and current Minister of Transport, at the opening of Certis Corporate University in November 2019:

“Industry leaders can take the lead and bring along other players in the industry and along the value chain. They are what we call Queen Bees, and they have a special responsibility. The Queen Bee is a very hardworking bee, and it is constantly reproducing offspring. And that is why we describe you as a Queen Bee. It is the constant hard work that you’re going to invest in reproducing new players who will understand that they too need to embark on this transformative journey. As the SkillsFuture movement grows and evolves over time, we need to invest more efforts to partner Queen Bee companies such as Certis.”

Wai Kit Ng, Senior Vice President, Head of Corporate Development and Chief Security Officer of Certis, sat down with LEARNTech Asia and shared his thoughts on the rapid upskilling of the Certis frontline workforce during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what’s in store for the future of security.

Learning during pandemic

Wai Kit Ng, Certis

While many had the luxury to work remotely during the pandemic, Certis’ workforce were front liners. Providing security for multiple businesses including banks and airports, they couldn’t work remotely. They had to be working onsite.

“It’s not so easy to digitalize their work because it’s not the office home-based environment,” explains Wai Kit.

Certis has security operations in the “red zone” which includes running government quarantine facilities and accompanying nurses to issue physical copies of quarantine orders.

For workplace learning, Certis used an LMS to push video training content to staff mobile devices with guidance on donning and doffing PPE to accommodate the unique needs of their existing uniform’s utility belt and pistol.

“You need to be at your worksite to perform your duty. We also realized very quickly that online learning becomes a key to coping with COVID-19,” says Wai Kit.

For training, Certis ran an academy which led to the opening of Certis Corporate University that offers civilians a nine-week program that qualifies them for an auxiliary police force.

“The LMS became very useful as a tool so that everybody can learn at their own pace, without having to bring them back to a central location, which is not so possible under COVID-19,” says Wai Kit. 

For on the job learning, there is a proprietary tool called the Certis Service Delivery System (CSDS) which maps out core and non-core routine tasks outlined on a job breakdown sheet.

“We have digitalized that. So now when you go to a site through your operational handphone, you can dial up the CSDS that is particular to your site and you can see the various steps,” explains Wai Kit.

“And when things change, we don’t pull everybody back. We just push it out through the CSDS. They will understand the steps because usually it’s minor tweaks. And then they are able to reference them.” 

Tested and learning in real-time

Wai Kit explains how Certis security worker performance and competencies are assessed in the field, in real-time.

“The authorities test us to make sure that we are on our toes. They will pretend to be a passenger carrying a forbidden item and go through the X-ray. Once in a while, they’ll find a novel way to hide the forbidden item and we didn’t detect it,” says Wai Kit.

“Immediately that is flashed out through the system so that the rest of the other X-ray screeners will know about it. So our mantra is, ‘We can be fooled once, but we will not be fooled a second time.'” 

Integrated job roles, uplifting sector

As customers are not willing to pay too much for security, a security guard usually does not command a high wage.

Rising education standards in Singapore leads to higher career aspirations — no one with a degree will want to stand at a security post. Has this opened an opportunity for uplifting the security sector and making security jobs attractive for Singaporeans?

“So with rising education and aspiration, increasing costs, a shortage of manpower, we’ve got to do better. The current model of security is not going to cut it. My view going forward is we will have to restructure the jobs,” says Wai Kit.

Jewel also gave the opportunity for an innovative approach to job design where all Certis security guards, guest services, and facility staff are cross-trained to support each others’ roles.

“We have people — security guards and facility management and concierge people who are cross-trained. For example, the security guard in Jewel can reverse the direction of the escalator if need be, without needing to call the facilities technician to do it. The response time is much faster,” says Wai Kit.

“So we think in Certis that eventually the security job role will expand. There will be a cross-training of technical skills. You increase the job scope and then you’ll be able to pay them more because they’re actually doing more and the job becomes more meaningful as well.”

“You no longer are just standing there,” says Wai Kit, referring to the familiar stance of a security guard.

“You have the technology to help you. You have to orchestrate things. You have more skills, and then your area of influence is bigger. You as an individual will cost more because we have to pay you more for the skills. Overall for the business, we can be more efficient in the way we do things, and we have proven we can be more efficient.”

Are all employees open to upskilling?

Photo by Prudviraj Datti

In any company, not just Certis, there are people who are open to upskilling and reskilling, and there are others who aren’t so interested.

“I don’t think it’s just age. There’s a group who would say, ‘Don’t bother me. I know how to do this. I’m comfortable with what I’m doing. Don’t change anything. I’m more than happy to draw this amount of pay and stand in front of the bank for eight hours every day,” explains Wai Kit.

“And when I finish, I will go back home. And then next day I do it again. This is my job. This is my life. I’m fine. Don’t touch me. I’m good.”

Wai Kit says these employees are willing to stay with Certis for many years. These workers just want to do what they do.

Provide meaningful jobs

“But we also increasingly see that there is another group. Usually, a bit younger, who wants to change things. They want to see if there’s a better way to do things right,” explains Wai Kit.

“There are people who have a university degree and join us as security supervisors. They’re more willing to try and experiment with technologies. To them good enough is not good enough. They want to see where are the boundaries they can push and how they can innovate and do things better,” says Wai Kit.

“I would speculate that going forward if we’re going to get the amount of people we need, we need more of the second group. Bring security as we know it to a new frontier and this is the group that we hope to be able to groom.”

“I think going forward in the next five to ten years with rising education, if we want to attract new people to join the security sector, then certainly you’ve got to appeal to people who are more highly motivated, highly trained, and to be able to provide jobs there are more meaningful to them.”

LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia showcases innovation in learning in Asia. We feature stories and resources in online learning, workplace learning, adult education, EdTech, and creative solutions by teachers and trainers in learning institutions, non-profits, and enterprises that enhance human capacity and inspire communities of lifelong learners.