This is “No time to die”, Highlander Asia’s Managing Director, Ms Kina Huang

Highlander Asia e2i

“No time to die” – the 25th instalment of the James Bond film series, is also the theme of Highlander Asia’s anniversary this year. In the past, they have always thrown elaborate parties in celebration of their anniversaries. The celebration is a more subdued one this year. Over the past 14 years, Highlander Asia has carved out a strong reputation in Clarke Quay as a well-known entertainment venue. With band performances 365 days a year, the music hardly stops at Highlander. Until Covid-19 hit earlier this year. On 7 April, Singapore’s Circuit Breaker kicked in. At Highlander Asia, the lights went out, and the music stopped.

“Like many other entertainment venues, I’m sure there was much anxiety for Highlander during that period?” we spoke to the lively Ms Kina Huang, Managing Director at Highlander Group.

“Every day closed means losses for us, but we understood and knew it was for the best, that we needed to protect our staff and customers,” Kina shrugged.

After weeks and weeks of painful, but necessary “lockdown”, Singapore entered phase two on 19 June 2020. Singaporeans are finally allowed to dine out and regain some level of social life. Unfortunately, business at the distinctive Scottish bar & restaurant was still nowhere near pre-Covid levels. “It’s hard. Still, I’m thankful for the support of my regular customers. Look at the flowers they sent for our 14th anniversary just a few nights ago despite me telling them not to…” Kina chirped.

In their efforts to step up precautionary measures when they reopened in Phase 2, the Group invested a whooping 5-figure sum in new disinfecting technology – the Airtum Technology – to ensure the safety of their customers and staff.

Even in Phase 2, their bands and DJ were not allowed to start work, but with the timely support from the Jobs Support Scheme, Highlander Asia has been trying their best to hold on to this group of entertainers. The mark of a supportive employer indeed.

Moving Towards Automation: Increasing Productivity, Benefitting Highlander Asia’s Workers

While things are tough, Ms Kina’s positivity and enthusiasm to keep things going have been inspiring. She shared that Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and Highlander Asia have been working together for some time now to facilitate professional development. They have also worked together on productivity initiatives via the Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) that aims to help 100,000 low-wage workers.

Highlander has since benefitted from e2i’s IGP to improve work processes. A Customised Core System with HR module and facial recognition has helped the company increase productivity for their administrative processes. The previous method of employee database, attendance, and applying of leave is done via application forms and keying into excel spreadsheet, or handwritten by store manager. With the new database, the system is able to be the consolidated database across functions from HR, Sales, Inventory etc, making it easier to be able to generate necessary reports.

On Upskilling Highlander’s Staff

During this difficult period, Kina and her team were not sitting idle. Together with the team at e2i, she started looking into courses and took advantage of the downtime to send her employees for upskilling. When asked why she has been ever so open to seeking out training for her team, she went, “Why not? It’s always good to pick up an extra skill or two!”

Indeed, too many employers neglect the importance of constant retraining and upgrading of their staff skillsets. If you ask me, it can only be a win-win situation with improved staff morale and confidence, and increased productivity!

Highlander has been working closely with e2i on Project Bartender 4.0, and the company has recently sent 15 local staff for The Art of Food & Beverage Pairing conducted by Republic Polytechnic. They have also participated in Certificate of Wine Studies and have good feedback regarding it.

Bar scene
The Art of Food & Beverage Pairing Training – Lesson in progress

“I’m glad that my staff is learning so much and shown interest in the courses. Did you know they sat through 25 FULL days of Zoom training? I told them that I really appreciate and salute them,” Kina beamed as she spoke proudly of her team.

The team went through the WSQ Certificate in Service Excellence and all managers were sent for the Professional Diploma in Leadership and People Management. In challenging times as now, the team spirit is high at Highlander.

The Days Ahead, It’s “No Time to Die” for Highlander Asia

For the industries badly hit by the pandemic, companies, the Government, Unions, and organisations like e2i have been hard at work finding support for these businesses and more importantly, the people they employ.

As Kina was sharing on her journey with Mr Gilbert Tan, e2i’s CEO, I could not help noticing how the gentleman lit up when he was sharing on issues affecting workers of the service industry. When Kina shared that she was facing a lot of difficulties trying to fill a role despite offering a higher-than-market rate, Mr Tan jumped in enthusiastically. “WE can help!” as he turned to his team, no intention to give up on even one potential match. His passion for worker-related issues is evident. “It is a tough time for all in the service industry,” he acknowledged.

3 people having a discussion
Ms Kina, Managing Director of Highlander Asia with e2i’s Deputy CEO, Ms Vicky Wong and e2i’s CEO, Mr Gilbert Tan, and CEO, Mr Gilbert Tan

Indeed, over the years, e2i has been serving as a bridge between workers and employers, connecting with workers to offer job security through job-matching, career guidance and skills upgrading. Their work has possibly doubled, tripled, or more in 2020. Yet, the enthusiasm of the team remains.

With the support of e2i, Kina and her team have been working on improving the way they do things at Highlander Group. Am sure they will be ready for the upturn once things recover. We look forward to their comeback. Until then, trudge on!

highlander bar DJ
Throwback to the good old PRE-COVID days
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