Vol: 43 Issue: 3 | Oct 2020
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses around the world discovered that shutting down their operations was a whole lot more complex than simply sending staff home and switching off the lights.
In fact, hibernation — and the subsequent restart — has presented numerous risks, made even more complex due to different lockdowns in every country, as well as the unpredictable spread of the virus.
Singapore-based Yong Seek Ying, FM Global’s Asia Pacific division engineering manager, has been right there with her clients, assisting them through this once-in-a-century process.
NON TRADITIONAL APPROACHYong is a qualified engineer who has worked with the property insurer for nearly two decades. FM Global applies a non-traditional engineering-based approach to risk management, with all evaluations based on information from engineers on site.
However, the scale of the pandemic is unlike anything Yong or her team have ever experienced.
The pandemic has ‘put a lot of unfamiliar risks on the plates of risk managers, including many things that they may not have been prepared for’, says Yong.
‘Thousands of facilities were required to shut down and become idle in a very short period of time … [with] very little preparation.’
A RANGE OF CHALLENGESDuring the initial pandemic response, Yong worked closely with clients on a broad range of challenges.
While some clients were closing down their operations, others were rapidly pivoting their businesses to produce new essential goods — posing a number of new risks along the way.
For instance, some manufacturing facilities were repurposed and retooled to produce hand sanitiser, which changed the risk of fire due to the flammable nature of the liquids. Others switched to manufacturing personal protective equipment, which also posed fire risks due to the potential for build-up of lint.
Of course, even during a global pandemic, risk managers must continue to plan for risks posed by natural disasters, including bushfires, cyclones and floods. ‘[In May] alone there were two typhoons that passed through Asia,’ says Yong.
DETERMINED TO SUCCEEDThe response and management of these types of disasters has proven complex. For example, social distancing requirements has meant there is often minimum manpower on site at any one time so resources can be stretched in the event of an emergency.
In addition, multi-national corporations are having to navigate the various government regulations and policies from countries that are in different phases of recovery from COVID-19, which can impact the operations of each facility and who is allowed on site.
But it is challenges like these that make Yong even more determined to succeed.
‘You’re not in a job where you’re just passing the time — it’s a job where you are helping ensure that employees are kept safe, customers are happy and business operations keep ticking along,’ says Yong. ‘After all, the recent pandemic has shown us just how disastrous major disruption can be on business operations.’
PASSION FOR ENGINEERINGYong completed a master’s degree in Environment, Health and Safety Technology and a bachelor’s (honours) degree in Materials Science at the National University of Singapore.
FM Global first crossed her radar while she was working as a young environment, health and safety engineer.
‘I was instantly interested in the type of work these engineers did, as well as how this engineering approach to underwriting is fundamental to insurance offerings for clients,’ she says.
She landed a job at FM Global in 2001 as part of the company’s expansion in the Asia Pacific and has since held a number of different roles, including field engineer, group manager for field engineers and the first female engineering manager for Asia operations.
In January 2019, she was appointed to her current role, based in Singapore.
Yong believes a number of factors differentiate FM Global from its competitors — namely its approach to loss prevention, which focuses on risk improvement, and its investment in research into new technologies, such as predictive analytics to help prevent specific risks.
‘These technologies can be viewed like a crystal ball that enables clients to see where their potential exposures are and help them focus on minimising potential damage,’ she says.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIONTalent development, diversity and inclusion are areas of particular interest for Yong.
Globally, engineering remains a male-dominated profession — in Yong’s Asia-Pacific division of FM Global, women hold approximately 20 per cent of the engineering roles.
The company’s effort to address this gender imbalance includes a partnership with the Society of Women Engineers.
‘Through this partnership, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of females who are interested in pursuing careers in the engineering space,’ says Yong.
She believes that FM Global’s approach — ‘working for a greater cause to help improve overall business resilience’ — makes the company an attractive employer for newly qualified engineers from across the Asia-Pacific region.
However, she concedes the current economic climate is likely to negatively impact job prospects for many ‘promising young people’.
PLAN FOR THE FUTUREAmidst challenging health and economic conditions, Yong believes businesses need to look at making permanent changes for a ‘new normal’, rather than hoping for a return to pre-pandemic approaches.
FM Global itself has responded to the pandemic by embracing new ways of working. The company offers remote engineering services via virtual meetings, which Yong believes will continue for some time as field activities gradually resume.
‘Without having boots on the ground, we can connect with clients by scheduling virtual meetings to go through any issues they’re facing and what kind of assistance they need — for example, if they are idle or are going to be idle — and the risks associated,’ she says.
For this engineer, new approaches and providing clients with assistance are all in a day’s work — pandemic or no pandemic.
TWO-MINUTE BIO: YONG SEEK YING, ASIA PACIFIC DIVISION ENGINEERING MANAGER — FM GLOBALEducation
Yong completed a Bachelor of Materials Science and a Master of Environment, Health and Safety Technology at the National University of Singapore. She also has a Graduate Diploma in Business Management from the Singapore Institute of Management.
She started her career as a safety engineer, before joining FM Global in 2001. Yong has worked at the company for the past 19 years, including roles as a field engineer and the first female engineering manager for Asia operations.
Beyond the day job
Yong enjoys spending time with her family and is also a supporter of various charities. She has initiated several fundraising activities with FM Global’s social committee team.
One of her proudest moments was raising more than S$10,000 by shaving her head to support the Children’s Cancer Foundation signature event, Hair for Hope.