Conversations with Raymond Tay

By Jian Jingying

Raymond Tay is a Human Resource (HR) Manager at the Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital, a community hospital focused on providing affordable rehabilitative and intermediate care for patients. He is also a Learning and Development Specialist at the hospital. In this article, Raymond shares his experiences, and provides some advice for those who are keen on entering working at the intersection of healthcare and human resources.

Normally, I respond, over email, to management, staff and vendors’ requests about matters within my job scope. I cover training needs and matters, and I also share with our staff some of the relevant courses and awards for submission. Sometimes, I may also need to respond to reviews of our HR policies.

That is one part of my typical workday. Other things that I do include planning and facilitating training, onboarding of new staff, staff sponsorship, and sponsorship of the studies of fresh entrants. My role involves overseeing the whole training, learning and development process of our hospital, covering the entire employee life cycle, from the time a staff member joins us to the time he or she leaves us.

During onboarding, we share with new staff members more about our organisation, policies and processes. We also take them to visit our sister organisations and work with supervisors from each department to arrange courses and training for staff members in light of their learning needs. 

We also plan training and create a course directory that is tailored to various professions. Supervisors can take these as a guide to choose courses for their staff. We set frameworks, policies, and processes to ensure that we can achieve high performance. I conduct performance management workshops for our supervisors, so that they know about the criteria we use for matters such as upgrading and promotions. Performance management helps us to not only be competitive in the market, but also to compensate our staff properly. We have rubrics and different performance bonuses to proportionately reward our staff based on their performance ratings. I also play a part in policy designing, although it is mainly driven by our HR director.

Some staff are required to undergo foundation and core training. For example, clinical staff need to go for their Basic Cardiac Life Support or Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification courses. For professions like medical social work, new staff need to attend an onboarding course run by the National Council of Social Service.

Within each profession, there are different grades and ranks. Depending on their grade and rank, some staff would have already received pre-employment education, like a diploma or degree, which would have covered the foundations of their roles. For example, healthcare assistants who join us usually have a Workforce Skills Qualifications certificate in healthcare support, so they know about some of the activities of daily living and basic nursing care.

However, at this point, they are still mainly generalists, perhaps with some specialist knowledge. Subsequently, if they want to specialise, they would need to attend additional courses and keep abreast of changes and trends in the field. Examples of specialisations are renal dialysis, dementia care, and gerontology in general care for the elderly.

Even doctors, after graduating from medical school, can also specialise further, such as in family medicine, paediatrics, gerontology or surgery. In acute hospitals, doctors can go into some specialisations, but it isn’t required for us in community hospitals as we don’t go into very complex health issues.

For doctors and nurses, it is mandatory for them to meet a certain number of hours of training. It’s part of the renewal of their license. Allied health professionals don’t have this mandatory requirement for their license. As for other professions like HR or Finance, some may also need to clock the necessary Continuing Professional Education hours.

Nevertheless, everybody needs to keep learning. It doesn’t mean that after they graduate, it’s the end. For HR professionals, even after we graduate, we still need to keep abreast of changes in the employment law, various government schemes and progressive people practices. We need to constantly upgrade ourselves. Nothing is stagnant nowadays.

I’m fortunate to have supportive supervisors and bosses who empower me in my work and are willing to share information so that I can conduct my work properly. They also allow me to exercise some autonomy in initiating changes and being creative. I’m also fortunate to have two subordinates who are conscientious and diligent in fulfilling their roles, so it hasn’t been much of an issue managing them.

But of course, it’s inevitable that sometimes we have disagreements on ideas and directions, for example in deciding whether we want to sponsor a staff member, or what minimum service period or bond duration should be for staff who want to attend a course that we can sponsor. Because policies are never designed by just one person, we’ll seek views of the many people who are involved in the process, and have discussions before we submit the policy for approval.

For my role, I’m in the middle management. I have to work with my bosses in the senior management, and I need to work with my staff. So definitely, there are occasions when an instruction from the top may not be as well-received from people in the lower ranks. Sometimes I need to be either the mediator or the voice of my staff, almost as a first line of defence.

Our culture is not one that is very hierarchical. I am happy to work in such an organisation that allows us to voice our views and provide suggestions. Not being yes-men. And neither should we be, in today’s workplace. All of us are trained and educated fairly well. We have our own thoughts, so we should leverage each other’s ideas. We are no longer in the past where all we need to do is just to follow instructions.

In hospitals, safety is paramount. Everybody should be empowered to voice out when they see something that is unsafe. When there are any accidents, lapses or mistakes, everybody has a role in it, because we all have a part in ensuring the safety of our procedures. It’s not about pointing fingers when things go wrong.

One challenge is changes in the management team. The key element in an organisation is its leadership, so if there are changes in the management team, such as the HODs or the CEO, it would disrupt the organisation, especially if there’s no proper hand-over. Then there will be a vacuum and a loss of clarity and direction. 

Digital transformation is another challenge for our organisation because we are not yet at the forefront of technology adoption. Several of our processes are still quite manual or are not seamless. Some forms and documents are still filled up by hand. However, we are trying to make incremental improvements. At the moment, I’m taking on a project to implement a learning management system so that the application and approval of training can be done electronically. I’m also overseeing an e-booking system for corporate membership so people can do their bookings online instead of manually.

We also need to handle resistance to change. Depending on the project, some people are more resistant to change, but it is everyone’s job, not just HR, to improve our work processes. We all have two jobs to perform: one is to fulfil our current responsibilities, the other is to improve our jobs. So, before others disrupt us, we need to be the ones to make improvements. Nowadays for PMETs like me, it is important to learn new technology, especially data science and computer science, to continue to remain relevant.

In HR, there are a lot of processes that can adopt technology and software. So, there’s a risk that technology will replace or disrupt us, especially for junior roles performing transactional duties, for example registering application forms and keying data into our system. When we implement a learning management system, some of these tasks will not require humans anymore.

More senior roles will not be affected as greatly in the short term because there is a lot of analysis, decision-making and planning involved—higher cognitive functions that require a human. Although technology such as Artificial Intelligence fortunately hasn’t yet reached the stage of totally replacing us, we can’t know for sure what will happen in the future.

I have been enjoying it, because I like to work with people. I’m not someone who can work in a lab or in a job where I have to sit behind a computer and do my work without talking to people. I enjoy organising training and key events like Staff Appreciation Day, where I get to work with colleagues from other departments.

I also enjoy sharing knowledge, conducting courses, teaching, trying out new work areas and acquiring new skills. The interesting part about hospitals is that we have a wide range of professionals, from doctors all the way to admin assistants. While not particularly in-depth, you gain a broad overview and general knowledge of the various professions in a healthcare organisation.

Another highlight of my job is being able to provide suggestions to upper management based on my HR knowledge and experience, and when they sometimes agree and adopt them. Given my role in management, I have the authority and power that enable me to create change. That gives a sense of satisfaction—to be able to leverage my expertise to add value to the organisation.

Not exactly, actually. My passion for training and education started when I was young, when I was volunteering in my CCA, St. John’s, back in school. I was a platoon commander and training officer. From there, I found my interest in teaching, designing curriculum and writing manuals. That kickstarted my trajectory into training and development.

I tutored students at enrichment centres, but it wasn’t totally my passion to join MOE as a teacher. I expanded my horizons from youth training to adult training, which subsequently broadened into the HR profession.

I chose to do a business degree because I wanted a holistic understanding of how organisations work. I was also very interested in entrepreneurship. These aren’t directly related to education and training, but different interests are sometimes intertwined and interlinked. They are not mutually exclusive. For example, even though it’s the finance department that takes care of accounting and figures, HR also needs to have some basic knowledge of these areas so that we know how we can support each other. It helps us to be a strategic partner.

After my Bachelor’s, I did a Master’s in Organizational Psychology and Human Resource Management, which gave me HR knowledge. After that, I joined the People’s Association to be a lecturer. I conducted courses for the staff, grassroots leaders and volunteers. I went into learning and development, which was very niche, but I eventually expanded to go into HR which covers more than just learning and development.

Sometimes, there are some things that we can plan, but other times it’s also God’s plan. I didn’t apply for my current role—a recruiter contacted me. I had my resume on various job portals and LinkedIn. I also applied for jobs but sometimes some doors are just not open or they don’t match your interests. I think it was a beautiful coincidence. We can control some things, but others are beyond our control. Sometimes it’s just about timing and luck.

There is a dilemma that I think many of us go through: should I be a specialist or a generalist? For me, I learned to be a specialist first, before becoming a generalist. In HR, there are many specialist roles, such as learning and development, compensation and benefits, and recruitment. One of the conventional ways to climb the corporate ladder, although there are many other different ways, is to be a specialist, and then a generalist. Top jobs like CEO tends to require you to be a generalist, and that is a reason why many people take a Master of Business Administration.

I may become a specialist again if I want to pick up new skills or roles. I may choose to become a HR generalist, but I may also want to take up some specialisations to build my skill set. So, the challenge for me is having to choose between the two. However, sometimes they work in a parallel fashion. For example, a business degree is a generalist course, but you can also specialise. There are some instances where we may be doing both at the same time. There’s never really a clear distinction.

Yes, definitely, otherwise I would have already quit. The fulfilment comes from my joy of working with people. I enjoy sharing knowledge and giving my opinions. So, doing that gives me a sense of meaning. My greatest satisfaction comes when I deliver a class or develop a course, and people come forward to thank me for sharing. It is always nice when people appreciate and recognise our efforts.

Working in a hospital also gives me fulfilment because I know I am contributing to a place with a very noble mission. It’s a place where lives are served, saved and improved. There is a sense of purpose in serving in healthcare, and it keeps me motivated.

It’s important to have the relevant qualifications and certification. In learning and development, the nationally recognised qualification would be the Advanced Certificate in Learning and Performance. I also have other behavioural certifications that increase my knowledge and help me to perform personality, leadership or EQ assessments. 

Another skill that is highly important would be communication. It’s especially important in HR as we progress in seniority. While junior staff may not need to present their ideas so often, the more senior you become, the more necessary it is to be able to influence others, to sell your idea, and to get a buy-in for it. So, having good communication skills is required.

Creativity is also important—not just in terms of designing, but also in trying new things and challenging the status quo. You look at the current process and think about how we can do things differently. How can we enhance the current work processes, policies or principles? In a managerial role, we are supposed to improve our subordinates’ jobs. Thus, we need to be able to think out of the box.

Without going into the details of it, our selection criteria consist of two primary aspects. The first is relevant qualifications. If we need a doctor, the candidate needs to have a medical degree. The other aspect is the candidate’s values, personality, and attitude towards work. As recruiters, we need to consider if this person can work with the team, whether he or she can uphold our company values. This helps us determine if there is a job fit. We do this mainly through interviews and conducting reference checks. We contact the candidate’s former supervisor to understand how he or she performed. 

Of course, we don’t usually do this if the candidate hasn’t already resigned from his or her previous job. It would be like telling the employer that their staff is planning to quit. Normally, the candidate will give us the referee. Otherwise, we will check with the previous employer.

I would like to pursue, perhaps, an opportunity to serve a higher position, to make positive change. However, I will continue to assess my current state and future options. Am I still learning? Am I still value-adding? Do I see opportunities for my growth? If there are some things that are lacking for me in this organisation, that I don’t have support from the management, perhaps I will move on. Or if the opportunity arises, I may also consider moving to other job positions if doing so allows me to stretch myself more.

It’s funny because from an HR point of view, we always want to retain staff. But the reality is that nobody remains permanently in a position. What HR can do is retain the staff for as long as possible, but we cannot stop people from leaving.

There is a general trend that length of service is getting increasingly short. I’m not too sure if there is any research on this, but my own evaluation is that this is due to changes happening faster. A particular job that previously could last for eight to ten years, with technology, is reduced to maybe three to five years before it has to be redesigned or omitted. Thus, people want to move on faster.

Another reason can be that nowadays, the younger generation wants to be exposed to different industries and companies. That’s why the tenure will be shorter as the younger generation values exposure over loyalty. That is, of course, unless you are in a really big firm or high demanded organisation, then that is a different story.

In HR, we have to accept the current trend, but I think many companies still recognise and reward long service. We have to continue to have different schemes and initiatives to retain staff, such as long service awards and sponsorship bonds. But at the same time, in the back of our minds, we must understand that this is going to be a norm. People are not going to stay for long. People will come and go.