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13 trainees complete course under hawker master pilot scheme

The first 13 trainee chefs under the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme have completed their Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications and on-the-job training.

SINGAPORE: The first 13 trainee chefs under the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme have completed their Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications and on-the-job training.

Five of them will now try their hand in the trade.

The year-long programme, designed to preserve Singapore's hawker heritage, aims to groom 50 hawkers by November.

The programme is managed by the Workforce Development Agency's Continuing Education and Training Centre, Project Diginity.

Mr Cedric Ng was a graphic designer for 18 years.

But his real passion was in food, especially having grown up in a family which made a living selling 'Bak Kut Teh' and Teochew porridge.

So when the opportunity to hone his culinary skills under the programme came up, he didn't think twice especially since his master trainer was from the popular Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice stall.

Besides learning the art of cooking chicken rice, Mr Ng now appreciates hawkers more.

Mr Ng said: "It's like a profession that not many people will think it's tough to do but it's very demanding. And in fact when I joined this programme, I want to change the mindset of people as well. Hawkers are not a group of people who are lowly educated. These days there are young hawkers and I want to be in that class of young hawkers where I can speak in English and serve nice food to others."

The other hawker master trainers were from D'Authentic Nasi Lemak, Apollo Fresh Cockle Fried Kway Teow and Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist.

While the trainees are passionate about the trade, they say they face various challenges.

Mr Ng said: "Challenges would be the material cost, it would mean we earn less also because there is higher rental these days. Unless we are really doing it for the love of cooking and serving -- it's really hard work. The other challenge is a physical challenge because you will be on your feet the whole day."

To help manage costs, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has put up "incubation stalls", where hawkers will get a S$500 rebate off their monthly rental for up to a year.

But the trainees will still have to pay the prevailing Service and Conservancy Charges and table-cleaning fees so as to give them a realistic idea of the hawker business.

But some say this isn't enough.

Ms Sim Poh Gek, a hawker trainee, said: "We are now talking to them and asking them for an extension because one year or 10 months, you can't make much money especially when we have invested so much in renovation, signboard, pots and pans and cutlery."

Upon completion of their training, hawkers can also choose to stay on with their Hawker Master Trainer to hone their culinary skills further or bid for a hawker stall via the NEA's open tender system.

A total of 17 new trainees will start their on-the-job-training over the next few months. 

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