The school that produces the well-followed monthly manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for Singapore is looking to grow its presence outside the Republic after 44 years. Its first step: To internationalise and teach courses overseas through online learning and tie-ups with global institutions. Beyond that, the not-for-profit organisation is also looking to create PMIs for emerging markets in the region that still do not have the indicator — such as Thailand and the Philippines.
Founded in 1972, the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM) was initially just a “member’s club”. It then started offering courses in the 1980s. In 1998, the school’s founder, Professor Philip Poh, created Singapore’s manufacturing PMI, the same time the Euro PMI was born.
Prof Poh, who is currently the chairman, has a history of formulating PMIs for countries globally: He was involved in the creation of the Euro PMI as well as the official China PMI, where he trained more than 300 Chinese economists in understanding the indicator.
Today, the PMI is a closely watched barometer of the manufacturing industry, and is followed by the media and government houses.
Crossing S’pore borders
In its move to expand out of Singapore, SIPMM appointed Mr David Cheang Sien Chan as its new chief executive officer last month, to oversee business development and internationalisation strategies.
Taking the academy out of Singapore will be a challenge, but unlikely to faze Mr Cheang, who has 15 years of management experience and a knack for helping companies expand out of Singapore.
“The school will be offering business-related interactive short online courses, in conjunction with foreign institutions. We plan to embark the school in a more hybrid manner through the courses taught, with an initial focus on the South-east Asian market. First stop is set to be at Kuala Lumpur,” said Mr Cheang in an exclusive interview with TODAY.
The courses, expected to be launched by the end of this year, will each span 18 hours, with fees costing less than S$900. With the completion of the course, the students will receive a certificate.
For locals, individuals can also look to the SkillsFuture grant, which is applicable for the courses.
The online move will benefit not just Singapore’s manufacturing industry and the employees here, but across the entire economy in the region, said Mr Cheang. “These skills are not solely for manufacturing. Anybody who is employed as a purchasing manager, logistics manager, supply chain manager, materials manager — all these people will benefit from these short courses.”
The courses will also focus on being a Singaporean brand, just as the school is, said Mr Cheang. “It will be a Singaporean course, with a typical Singaporean lecturer’s recording.”
Every year, managers come back for upskilling of classes, by taking the short courses. Some polytechnic lecturers also attend the school’s two-day workshops so that they can develop materials for their own lectures and tutorials. With the online move, it will be more convenient for their attendees, said Mr Cheang.
The overseas expansion also fills up a social objective. “We are expanding our reach because we want to provide a reach of the skills to the region, to emerging markets,” said Mr Cheang.
“For overseas candidates, soon anybody can go in online, whether on the train, on the bus, or at home.”
SIPMM added that they will also progressively introduce their existing long-term diploma and advanced diploma courses online, through the compliance with regulators.
Singapore will be the starting point, and the school hopes to be able to represent South-east Asia to conduct world conferences.
“I always have a passion for education. The school has a long history and thanks to Prof Poh, has a lot to offer to the society, and should be shared with the world,” said Mr Cheang.
SIPMM open to creating PMIs for emerging markets
Not only has the school decided to extend its reach as an education platform, it is also open to creating PMIs for countries that do not have the indicator.
“There are quite a number of countries that have asked if we would do the PMI for them and the answer is yes. We will consider this and we will help those countries that do not have the PMI,” said Mr Cheang.
Some emerging markets, including Thailand and the Philippines, do not have a PMI and “we can train the government bodies and help them, just like what was done for China”, he added.
Compared with other PMIs in the market, Mr Cheang stressed that what they offer is not for commercial gain.“You have some commercial PMIs currently in the market, for instance … and their revenue comes in two forms: One is a sponsor, which pays for it every month, the other is to sell it to those who want the information,” said Mr Cheang.
“But we don’t have or take from either. We provide our information for free, and it is produced by the school … because we want to help the society. This PMI is a social responsibility, and not to be used for commercial gains, and we have been covering it for the past decades. We have proven our value and commitment to Singapore as seen with the Singapore indicator.”
The indicator has been even more keenly watched lately, with the Republic’s factory activity in the doldrums due to weak external demand.
The latest PMI data released earlier this month showed the manufacturing sector extended its stretch of deteriorating conditions for the eighth consecutive month in February, the lowest reading since December 2012, due to lower new orders, a further drop in output and lower employment.
However, even as the sector continues to be beaten, Mr Cheang remains upbeat and said that manufacturing continues to be a core pillar of support for most economies.
“Without manufacturing, you will have problem with the services sector. The manufacturing industry is a pillar of support for our economy and produce jobs, and goods to the whole chain of various sectors, including logistics, shipping. Although it is reducing, it is still important and it is still essential.”