SINGAPORE – Smaller firms will get more help to expand overseas under an initiative unveiled on Friday (July 26).

The iTalent Solutions Map, as it is called, aims to assist enterprises to identify the critical skills they will need to operate effectively when they venture out of Singapore.

It maps out the different stages a firm experiences when going international and the key capabilities it might require at each stage, including in areas such as culture and language, relations and digitalisation.

The system was developed by SkillsFuture Singapore and the International Trading Institute at Singapore Management University (SMU) after a year-long study that involved 60 industry experts, academics, business owners and employees from more than 30 firms based here.

Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education, outlined the initiative at a launch ceremony at SMU: “Internationalisation is an important enabler for our companies to scale up and grow.

“As Asian economies develop, we will see a rise in the number of wealthy and middle-class consumers who will look for quality products and services.

“Being a trusted and connected hub in the region, Singapore is well positioned to benefit from this trend… Expanding abroad will help out companies to widen their customer base and provide them with access to resources, technology and talent.”

He added that 70 per cent of local firms surveyed last year have expanded overseas but venturing abroad is not easy, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“When entering new markets, companies may lack the competitive advantage and know-how when their products and services are pitted against established local brands,” said Mr Chee.

“They may also be constrained by limited business resources and inadequate knowledge of internationalisation strategies and modes of market entry.”

Mr Chee added that the map will guide firms on this expansion journey and help them avoid the many pitfalls that may arise: “It will benefit our enterprises, especially our SMEs, by providing information about skills development and more importantly, equipping their employees with the right skills to take their business overseas.”

A complementary initiative – the iSkills Talent Development Programme – has also been launched to teach employees these necessary skills.

The programme has its first course in September and each one will run for six months. Participants will undertake projects with guidance from mentors, experience overseas immersion modules and participate in sessions with business and industry leaders.

Staff from 18 SMEs have enrolled in the first run of the course, which was developed by Ngee Ann Polytechnic with the International Trading Institute at SMU.

SMU Provost Timothy Clark said: “All stakeholders must work together to address the urgent need to help Singapore-based firms embrace internationalisation through human capital development.”

SkillsFuture Singapore chief executive Ng Cher Pong said: “Through the collaboration… we are making available useful insights and relevant training required to better prepare our companies and their workforce for overseas expansion.”

Foodservice distributor FoodXervices is interested in the programme to support its plans to expand overseas.

Human resources spokesman Neo Kwok Siang said: “We have been looking at going overseas since 2016 and just started finding partners in the UAE.

“But we found it very difficult because we had no knowledge of the logistics and paperwork needed to enter that market and we had no staff trained in this.”

The firm plans to send two employees for the iSkills programme.

“I hope they will learn in depth on how to deal with a different culture overseas and on e-commerce,” said Mr Neo.

“The solutions map is also useful so we can straightaway know what areas to focus on when going overseas.”