Building a future-ready workforce: How HP is upskilling at its ink factories in Asia

HP is educating and training workers who will lead the way in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

By Sandhya Mahadevan — August 15, 2023

Technical Specialist Yumi Chui began her journey at HP’s Inkjet and Ink Supplies Operations (ISIO) in Singapore as an inspector in the Advanced Materials & Test Centre (AMTC) in 2006, and over the subsequent decade, moved up to various roles. 

“My bosses have always encouraged me to upskill. They would also take note of my expertise and skill sets and try to match me with different roles accordingly,” says Chui. 

In 2017, she earned a degree in InfoComm Technology at PSB Academy through an HP program that assists employees in pursuing further education, and her career took on a whole new dimension. Her case is not an isolated one, but rather an example of HP building a work culture that embraces a growth mindset. 


RELATED: Artificial intelligence comes to the office


HP’s approach to work in the context of the radical technological disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, from artificial intelligence to automation, is to ensure employees understand these new technologies that foster a company’s adaptability and resilience and ultimately drive economic growth. The ability to adapt to technological changes is crucial in today’s fast-paced world. 

“Our vision is to create the most efficient, flexible, and sustainable manufacturing ecosystem at the frontier of the next industrial revolution,” says Albert Chan, global head of Inkjet and Ink Supplies Operations. “While we can adopt the latest and greatest technologies, we recognize that the linchpin to our success is our people. That’s why we prioritize upskilling and reskilling initiatives.” 

Richard SK Ng, manager at HP SMARC, an exploratory space for prototyping in different areas such as 3D printing, automation, IoT, and data analytics.

Lauryn Ishak

Richard SK Ng, manager at HP SMARC, an exploratory space for prototyping in different areas such as 3D printing, automation, IoT, and data analytics.

This is especially relevant in rapidly growing Asian economies such as Singapore, where the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the urgent threat of skill gaps to organizational growth when some workers from Malaysia and neighboring countries were unable to enter Singapore. It prompted the government to further invest in the culture of lifelong learning it had initiated through programs such as SkillsFuture Singapore, formed in 2015 under the Ministry of Education to strategically shape the country’s workforce to be in tune with its own long-term ambitions. 

People come first 

HP Singapore is one of two main locations for the manufacture of Original HP inkjet supplies, including HP Indigo. Today, 35% of HP’s technical workforce in its Inkjet Supplies and Ink Operations have had the opportunity to take on new roles as needs evolve, thanks to internal and external training and reskilling. 

While a proliferation of technology has long been a key advantage in Asia, there has been a certain lag in combining tech with learned skill sets and helping workers apply that knowledge to future roles. PwC’s 2022 Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey found that a majority of companies have not made upskilling a key workforce strategy—among the surveyed employees, only 40% said their companies were upskilling to address skill gaps, while 39% expressed concern that they were not given sufficient training in digital and technological skills. This may be attributed to factors such as limited awareness, access to resources, mismatched skills, and socioeconomic barriers. 

However, the pandemic propelled the need to have a pipeline of up-and coming local talent at the ready. HP puts that focus front and center with a two-pronged approach to developing a future-ready workforce: providing opportunities for skill building internally through learning and development programming, or facilitating it via institutions of higher education. 

“While we can adopt the latest and greatest technologies, we recognize that the linchpin to our success is our people. That’s why we prioritize upskilling and reskilling initiatives.”

— Albert Chan, HP’s Global Head of Inkjet and Ink Supplies Operations

Future-ready and predictive 

HP’s workforce plan aligns with Singapore’s vision to increase manufacturing value-adds such as electronics, precision engineering, and biomedical sciences by 50% by 2030, while HP’s expertise in advanced manufacturing technologies, digital transformation, and sustainability aligns with Singapore’s manufacturing goals. 

The company launched the Smart Manufacturing Applications and Research Centre (SMARC) at its ISIO facility in 2017 to help its employees keep up with technological advances. 

“We cannot take for granted that we know the latest and greatest,” says Richard SK Ng, manager at HP SMARC. “We have a wide knowledge base and skill range within the organization—from fresh graduates to those with expertise in a certain field—so we have to upskill to keep everyone on par.” Ng describes SMARC as a large playground with cutting-edge toys powered by the most disruptive technologies in the industry. The center adopts a “triple A” approach: “Aware” is a competency metrics assessment, following which specific industry knowledge is imparted through e-learning courses. Employees are then moved to the “Apply” stage through project-based training provided by in-house subject-matter experts. “Accelerate” puts the spotlight on front-runners and early adopters by encouraging them to upskill and increasing their involvement in impactful projects.

Employees then apply their learnings at SMARC, which essentially performs as an exploratory space for prototyping in different areas such as 3D printing, automation, IoT, and data analytics. Workers can test their ideas before implementing them onto the production line. An experimental approach drives innovation, so that “we can continue to do what we do, but better and more efficiently,” Ng explains. For example, the Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle (AIV) was part of an initiative brought in to assist on the production line to eliminate manual handling of material and reduce touch points and the risk of part damage. After a successful test run, the system was deployed to the production line for part handling and transportation.

Upskilling workers for the future

For other workers already on the job, the Learning Academy at the HP Indigo plant in Tuas — the industrial belt of the country — serves as the in-house training ground for engineers, technicians, and operations staff as part of their job orientation process. Here, the focus is on upskilling to preserve and transfer organizational knowledge, and to help workers acquire skills needed for specialized jobs. 

“The main aim is to ensure the transfer of knowledge, which is of great relevance especially in Singapore, where manufacturing is not a top career of choice among the younger generation,” explains Daniel Paul, head of the Learning Academy. 

Principal trainer Sudhar Neelakantan, who has been at the Learning Academy since 2017, is at the forefront of this open outreach to attract younger talent, and he says it’s as important as ensuring a technically sound and updated workforce. He oversees the other engineer-trainers at Tuas and the region who know the HP Indigo Presses inside and out, collectively teaching about 100 customer operators a year to operate and maintain the presses and 40 partner engineers to service and repair them and troubleshoot issues on the manufacturing floor. 

From left to right: Sudhar Neelakantan holding the charge roller of the HP Indigo 12000 Digital Press; the group gathering around for closer instruction.

Lauryn Ishak

From left to right: Sudhar Neelakantan, principal trainer at the Learning Academy at the Tuas plant, holding the charge roller of the HP Indigo 12000 Digital Press; the group gathers around for closer instruction.

Partnering with higher ed 

In 2018, HP also launched the HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab at Nanyang Technological University to jointly develop technologies to evolve smart manufacturing, from additive manufacturing to related security and supply chain models. It is also a training ground for the manufacturing industry of the future. 

In addition, HP Singapore works closely with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) on a number of programs, including a work-study diploma that offers students on-the-job training relevant to their course material. HP collaborates with many other institutions and universities in the country as well, among them the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Polytechnic, and has recently entered into an agreement with the Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) agency SIMTech for project-based training that is skewed to industry- and employee-specific pain points. 

In 2022, the company also partnered with SkillsFuture Singapore as a SkillsFuture Queen Bee to uplevel sustainable manufacturing and procurement capabilities in the manufacturing industry. 

A systematic approach 

As for Chui’s experience, she was tasked with making the checking of AMTC employee courses more efficient. She taught herself various software programs through online resources and fully automated the process so the data no longer had to be manually keyed in. In recognition of Chui’s expertise, ISIO’s Learning Team invited her to become a trainer in 2019. In November of that year, she was promoted to her current position as a technical specialist for troubleshooting and performing quality checks. Today she is pursuing a degree in web programming. 

HP’s approach to upskilling is holistic and innovative and, most importantly, an investment in its future. “It’s a win-win to maximize business and customer value to HP while creating new and exciting career opportunities for our workforce,” says Chan. 

And as Chui has learned from her personal experience, for the employees, it only requires an open mind. “I never imagined that I would be learning or mastering automated programming. I was surprised when my name came up for the role of trainer — it is very encouraging,” she says. “The only expectation here is a growth mindset, and the willingness to learn and embrace change.”


Read about a former founder’s rules for bringing a startup mentality to a big company