Few hawkers still in business after apprenticeship programme

Few hawkers still in business after apprenticeship programme

938LIVE: The programme had aimed at breathing new life into the hawker trade but less than 10 of the hawkers are still in the business today.

File photo of diners at a hawker centre. 

SINGAPORE: About five of the 46 trainees who graduated from the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme are still in the business, said Dignity Kitchen's executive director Yeo Hiok Keat on Friday (Feb 5).

Launched by the Workforce Development Agency two years ago, the programme pilot was initially run by social enterprise Dignity Kitchen. It had aimed at breathing new life into the hawker trade. Since then, it has continued with its training programme, but with a greater emphasis on practical skills.

Those who did try their hand at being a hawker, or those who never took it up in the first place, cited challenges such as prohibitive costs and finding a prime location.

One of the 46 graduates who took up the course was 45-year-old Vincent Tan. He did so after an 18-year career in the nightlife industry. A key component of his training was linking up with veteran hawkers and that was what he did, in addition to attending courses.

Mr Tan graduated after four months of learning the ropes at an established chicken rice restaurant, and his first stop was to set up a stall at the Amoy Street Food Centre in the middle of 2014.

The food centre soon went under renovation and Mr Tan then decided to move to an industrial estate canteen after three months. However, he said things were less than rosy and he shifted to a third location in June last year.

“I went to Jalan Besar, one of the coffeeshops, and for six months, there was no crowd. At first, it was not bad, (but) after that, (there was) no outside crowd. From there I gave up," he said.

He also admitted that a lack of experience contributed to the failure of his business.

“I never really earned money, because of many things. I didn’t know how to give a good portion to customers”, he said. What he has learned now, from a company that he currently works for, is that one chicken should give him 20 portions of chicken rice - not the 13 to 14 portions that he used to provide.

Graphic designer Cedric Ng also graduated from the same programme, but he did not get as far as setting up his own stall.

He said: “It did cross my mind to start my own stall. One of the trainees asked me to collaborate with him. I told him there are constraints, like finance. The cost of starting is not cheap, from sourcing of utensils and cutlery, and aluminium hardware.

"It's quite a figure to bear. It's not easy in the sense that you need to have a lot of passion, and extra cash to do it.”

STICKING IT OUT

Bucking the trend is 55-year-old programme graduate Peter Mok. While he whips up wanton noodles like a seasoned cook, he is only considered a "rookie hawker", with less than two years of experience under his belt.

"As with anything new, there are a lot of challenges,” Mr Mok said. “The greatest one for me was that I had to do a lot of R&D and brainstorming. Just learning about the food and how it is being prepared is just a part of the business … it’s not just running one stall but the whole experience.”

“When problems come, it’s passion that keeps you going," he added.

Mr Yeo explained: “They are being trained in a real food court environment and they get the real experience of how a food court works.

“Trainers are experienced and respected people from the industry, like hotels, and some have experience in the hawker trade. They will impart the science of cooking, art of management, manning a food stall."

While he has reviewed the curriculum to make the training more relevant to aspiring hawkers, he warned that the challenges should not be underestimated.

“This trade may not be for everyone, a lot of people come, (and) they have the idea, 'I can be my own boss, I can make a lot of profit'. But being a hawker, it’s not so simple,” he said.

For now, he said only about five of the 46 graduates from the original programme are in business, which means the prospects of grooming a new hawker generation may remain uncertain.

What's next for hawker trainees? It's been over two years since the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme started, but only a few of the 46 graduates are still in the trade. 938LIVE's Lee Gim Siong spoke to one hawker whose business is still thriving, and another who recently bowed out.

Posted by 938LIVE on Friday, February 5, 2016
Source: 938LIVE/xk