When posed with the challenge of creating a role new to its industry in Singapore, the creative engineering company turned to the Skills Framework to help it compose a job description and map out the career path for its staff.
What do you do when you have to create a role that is new to the industry your firm operates in and attract talent to fill it?
This was the challenge that Aleph was confronted with when it decided it needed a design operations lead.
Tapping the Skills Framework for Design jointly launched by the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg), SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and Workforce Singapore (WSG), the creative engineering company was able to craft a job description with clear work functions and in doing so, eventually find the right talent to take up the job.
It all began when Aleph realised it was wasting resources. For instance, different teams working on the same digital project would develop the same function differently, reveals Design Director Poon Wen Ang.
“When we wanted to clean it up, it became a big headache. In our world, this slows down speed to market.”
Further analysis of the situation led to the conclusion that Aleph needed a design operations lead to overcome these issues.
Headquartered in Singapore, the 14-year-old multi-national company is all about “crafting impactful experiences”.
It counts among its completed projects designing and developing experiences such as the UOB Mighty app, revamping Garuda Indonesia’s booking app and overhauling the digital presence for Frasers Property.
Approach it with an open mind like any other tool, and use it as you see fit. If you apply design thinking and creativity to it, the outcomes and opportunities could surprise you.
Identifying A Talent Gap
The design operations function is ingrained in technology companies in the west but not the ones here, making it relatively new.
“This person is the custodian of the way of working, with the intention to amplify design value,” explains Poon.
“In today’s world where telecommuting looks set to be the new normal because of pandemics like COVID-19, design operations is more important than ever.”
The role is similar to a conductor’s, where the individual has to encourage an orchestra to harmoniously perform a symphony, except the design operations lead’s playground is in the digital space.
Among the primary responsibilities include process management and coordination, logistics, tooling (standardising the software used) and communications.
Some of the key tasks are keeping tabs on the workflow between the designers, upholding the design integrity of the product and cross-functional communication with the developers and product teams of the project.
Because so many balls need to be juggled at the same time, it is imperative that the role is filled by someone with at least four to six years of work experience with qualifications in design, design management or user experience.
This person is required to be a systems thinker who can see things from a big picture point of view.
“The role calls for problem-solving, and requires someone matured enough to know the process and lead it with a systemised approach to delivery,” explains Poon.
An Important Tool For Employers
At around the same time that Aleph decided it needed to hire a design operations lead, Dsg announced that a Skills Framework for Design was launched for the sector.
This is a resource tool which contains key sector information, career pathways and job roles, critical work functions and key tasks, existing and emerging skills, as well as relevant training programmes. It provides a common language for individuals, employers and training providers.
It includes 18 generic and 48 technical skills and competencies, such as business model innovation, creative entrepreneurship, user experience design and design thinking practice.
One of the ways employers can use it is to identify relevant skills needed of its staff and invest in training to maintain a strong talent pool.
Poon shares that he had already been part of that conversation, lending the industry perspective to the discussion and offering insights to help develop the Skills Framework for Design.
Therefore, when Aleph started to draw up the job description for the design operations lead, the Skills Framework came in useful.
“We could not identify a role that exactly matched what we were looking for but instead, we were able to quickly identify the relevant skill sets, such as Change Management and Systems Thinking, to build the description of the job,” he says.
“We basically flipped through the pages of the Skills Framework, tagged the parts that were useful and customised it to construct the design operations lead role.”
Benchmarking Against The Industry
Since it was brand new to the Singapore job market, attempts to advertise it online did not generate any concrete leads.
After three months, the decision was made to change the strategy and take the search in-house instead.
Poon shares how he identified a team member, Gilroy Timothy, who was a UI/UX Lead and already performing some of the tasks of a design operations lead.
Timothy readily agreed to officially take on the role, especially since he already had the design mindset, including being methodical, process-oriented and having an eye for quality design.
“I always believe that process and people are the core of every project. It’s very exciting for me to be involved in both strategic and tactical planning,” says Timothy, on why he said yes.
“I enjoy making sure that the team is aligned with the strategic goals, while we practice the right process on the day-to-day goals to deliver the best results.
“With the right process, we have opened doors for scalability and new opportunities.”
That he is a trailblazer is something that has not escaped Timothy’s notice, especially given how difficult the economic conditions are at the moment, due to COVID-19.
“Performing this role has helped to future-proof myself and placed me one step ahead in the talent market. I’m glad I said yes when the opportunity came my way.”
That Poon had the Skills Framework to support him was beneficial, especially since it was co-developed by credible authorities i.e. Dsg, SSG and WSG, and validated by the industry stakeholders.
“It aligns with our vision, and it helps us have that creative confidence that we are progressing down the right path from a design team perspective.”
Additionally, the Skills Framework supports Aleph’s talent development efforts, acting as a career roadmap to guide its employees to where they could progress towards.
“It is also a good resource to use to update our job descriptions to make them clearer and more self-explanatory. This is especially helpful when you need to attract staff and retain talent.”
Another outcome: The establishment of Aleph Academy, an internal training initiative to grow the knowledge base of its employees.
“The Skills Framework inspired the whole idea of upskilling and reskilling internally,” Poon adds.
Poon emphasises that in order to maximise its potential, it is important that someone in the organisation be a champion of the Skills Framework.
In Aleph’s case, it was himself.
“I believe in what Dsg is offering and asking us to do, because I recognise that it is for the growth of the industry and also benefits our staff.
“Approach it with an open mind like any other tool, and use it as you see fit. If you apply design thinking and creativity to it, the outcomes and opportunities could surprise you.”