Tuesday 22 October 2013

Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme

New scheme to train next generation of hawkers
Trainees get to learn from veteran chefs; registration begins today
By Bryna Singh, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2013

VETERAN chefs will pass on their skills under a scheme being launched today to preserve Singapore's hawker heritage.

The Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme is a collaboration between the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and National Environment Agency (NEA), supported by real estate firm Knight Frank and The Business Times.

Registration for the 50 places begins today and is open to Singapore citizens or permanent residents aged 18 and over.

The scheme will see WDA providing "hawkerpreneurs" with Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications in food and beverage. WDA will also provide a training grant of up to 90 per cent of the course fees.

Training will be administered by Project Dignity, one of the WDA's Continuing Education and Training Centres for the food and beverage sector. NEA will provide stalls for trainees to showcase their culinary skills.

Knight Frank and The Business Times, via YMCA's Project Hawkerpreneurs, are to fund up to 90 per cent of the on-the-job training course fee.

Trainees will learn from the veterans for up to four weeks before being assessed by them. They will be taught how to prepare ingredients, cook, present food, serve customers and keep their stall clean and tidy.

The "Hawker Master Trainers" include Madam Lai Yau Kiew of Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist in Hong Lim Food Centre, Mr Thian Boon Hua of Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice in Balestier Road and Mr Tan Ah Guan of Apollo Fresh Cockle Fried Kway Teow in Marine Parade Food Centre.

Madam Lai, 62, is looking forward to seeing the trainees in action - and also grateful for the chance to pass on her expertise. She had a leg operation in March and struggles to stand for long. Her two daughters, Ms Kristen Choong and Ms Jill Choong, both in their 30s, manage the day-to- day running of her two adjacent wonton mee stalls, while she helps out once in a while.

Said Ms Kristen Choong: "We think this is a great idea, because we want our mother and grandmother's legacies in this trade to continue."

The stall was first set up in 1965 by their grandmother, who handed it down to their mother. Both daughters are single and feel the urgency of passing on the baton - even if it is to someone outside the family.

"We want to pass down our skills while we are still able- bodied for this trade has really strained our health," said Ms Kristen Choong. Their days begin at 3am with food preparation, then it is non-stop from 7am, when the stall opens, to 7pm.

Mr Richard Tan, director of NEA's Hawker Centres Division, said: "This collaboration between NEA, WDA and the private sector will contribute to preserving our unique hawker heritage."

The programme hopes to create a supply of hawkers for the 10 hawker centres to be built by 2017.

It is the latest boost for the industry, which hit the headlines in July when Singapore hawkers triumphed over celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, in the SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge.

Top execs share hawker favourites
The Business Times has compiled the list in the second edition of CEOs' Hawker Guide
By Jennani Durai, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2013

Top executives are not above scarfing down hawker food and The Business Times has put together a second book of their favourite local fare to prove it.

The second edition of the CEOs' Hawker Guide was launched jointly by The Business Times and real estate giant Knight Frank yesterday at the UBS Business University Asia Pacific Command House in Kheam Hock Road.

The book, which is a compilation of articles in a food series published in The Business Times from September last year to April this year, features the favourite food stalls of top executives in 29 categories, including prawn noodles, chicken rice, bak kut teh, laksa, satay and roti prata.

Eleven chief executives first provided a list of their top 10 favourite hawker stalls in various food categories.

The list was then compiled and sent to The Business Times' database of more than 1,000 chief executives for them to vote on. The top four or five that emerged from each category were then profiled by the newspaper and included in the book.

Mr Alvin Tay, editor of The Business Times, says that the first edition of the guide, published in 2010, was aimed at celebrating Singapore's unique culinary heritage while showing that CEOs are "not above the simple pleasures of a well-fried plate of char kway teow". The first book featured 134 stalls in 26 categories.

"This second edition, however, is published in the light of a serious issue - the uncertain future of our hawker traditions as culinary masters approach retirement age with no clear succession path," he says.

"Together with our partner Knight Frank, we hope to use this book as a springboard for discussion and action to promote and sustain the hawker profession as not just a noble one, but profitable and even fashionable as well."

The book will go some way towards that, as it is not for sale but given to donors who give at least $20 to an initiative of the YMCA's called Project Hawkerpreneurs, which is supported by The Business Times and Knight Frank.

Companies will be invited to donate a sum of money towards the cause, which will involve equipping young people with the skills to be a hawker and helping them start their own businesses. All funds raised will be given to the YMCA, which will use it to help young people learn culinary skills through the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme, a collaboration between The Singapore Workforce Development Agency, the National Environment Agency, The Business Times and Knight Frank.

"I do fear that the preparation skills, techniques and secret recipes may disappear with the passing of a generation. We do not know how much has been passed on to the younger generation," says Mr Edmund Koh, country head of UBS Singapore and chief executive of UBS Wealth Management (South- east Asia and the Asia-Pacific Hub), who counts the char kway teow from Zion Road Food Market among his favourite hawker foods. He was one of the 11 to first submit their picks.

He adds: "We need to encourage more young people to join the hawker trade and see it as a business and career."

While it was not difficult to find excellent food, it was hard to narrow down the best ones, says Mr Tan Tiong Cheng, executive chairman of Knight Frank.

"As it turns out, many of the CEOs' votes are similar to the choices of most knowledgeable taxi drivers," he says, adding that one of his top picks was the prawn noodles at Pek Kio Market and Food Centre. He was among the panel of 11 who narrowed down the top hawkers.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, chief executive of NTUC FairPrice Co-operative who is also on the panel of 11, found that he faced the problem of "too many favourites" in putting together the book.

He says: "There are many good choices and hawkers around and perhaps because my tastebuds are not sophisticated." His top pick is Ang Sa Lee Fried Oyster at Chomp Chomp Food Centre.

Mr Tay, whose own favourite Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice made the cut into the book, says he hopes to try all 180 stalls listed in the book at least once. "When I have done that, maybe it'll be time to work on the third edition," he says.

To make a donation and receive a copy of the book, e-mail Vanessa Chan at vanchan@sph.com.sg.

* Low take-up for hawker apprenticeship programme
TODAY, 5 Feb 2014

In contrast to the strong initial interest, fewer than half of the places offered under a scheme to learn from famous hawkers here have been taken up so far — more than three months after it was launched.

The Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme, which lasts about five to six months, has 23 trainees filling the 50 places available.

TODAY understands that several prospective trainees withdrew their applications because they could not commit the time for the training. Some of those who had considered applying for the scheme also told this newspaper that they could not afford to take time off to attend the training.

The scheme — a collaboration between the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and National Environment Agency (NEA) — marks the first time the Government and the private sector are working together to preserve the Republic’s hawker heritage, and help supply such cooks for 10 new hawker centres to be built by 2017.

When the scheme was launched in October last year, around 300 people sought details about it from Project Dignity, which manages the apprenticeship. The scheme has two components — Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) training and on-the-job training.

WDA provides a training grant of up to 90 per cent of the S$1,760 course fee for the WSQ training. Knight Frank and The Business Times fund up to 90 per cent of the on-the-job training course fee, which ranges between S$2,000 and S$3,000, and goes to paying the five Hawker Master Trainers with the scheme so far.

Among the current slate of applicants, 10 are undergoing on-the-job training with the five veteran hawkers: Mr Tan Ah Guan of Apollo Fresh Cockle Fried Kway Teow, Mr Thian Boon Hua of Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice, Mr Sulaiman bin Abu of D’Authentic Nasi Lemak, Mdm Lai Yau Kiew of Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist and Mr Elango Subramaniam of Casuarina Curry.

Mr Loo Boon Kiat, 28, had signed up for the programme but he did not attend the training. Mr Loo, who is working part-time at a fishball factory and has put in a bid for a hawker stall, said the training duration was too long.

Ms Norita Binte Ismail, 52, who has three schoolgoing children, is interested in becoming a hawker but the worry about making ends meet put her off applying for the scheme. “Money-wise, it is very hard for me,” said the part-time cook at a childcare centre.

Project Dignity Executive Director Koh Seng Choon said interest in the scheme is still growing. A briefing will be conducted this week for 30 prospective applicants, he said.

On the profile of the trainees, Mr Koh said they are typically professionals, managers, executives and technicians in their late 30s and 40s. Many of them worked in the electronics industry or the real estate sector but are currently not working. “Many of them are quite educated,” he noted.

WDA’s Director of Tourism Division, Ms Janice Foo, said the agency expected teething issues with the programme. It is learning from the experience of the first batch of trainees and will reach out to more prospective applicants, she said. Among the challenges was working out the training schedules with veteran hawkers, she added.

“We had to (ensure) flexibility in the training schedule to avoid peak periods, so we do not affect the businesses,” Ms Foo said. “Another challenge was managing the expectations of trainees, as they need to have the aptitude and tenacity to work under the conditions in hawker centres.”

One of the trainees, Mr Azman Abdul Rani, 55, said the programme allows them to focus on mastering a dish, unlike the training at a culinary academy, for instance, where generic cooking skills are taught. “(Trainees) can cut short the time (for training) and become a specialist in a particular dish,” said Mr Azman, who has been in the food business for several decades.

** 13 graduate from scheme to keep hawker heritage alive
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2014

A CAMPAIGN to preserve Singapore's much-loved hawker heritage has taken an important step forward.

After six months, the first batch of 13 trainee hawkers has graduated from a pilot scheme designed to ensure authentic traditional fare stays on the menu.

The graduates will now run "incubation" stalls with a year-long lease, stay with trainers at their stalls or run their own businesses.

The graduates of the Hawker Master Trainer pilot programme showed off their skills at a tasting session yesterday by cooking for panellists of the CEO Hawkers' Guide published by The Business Times.

The programme, which started in October last year, has recruited "master" hawkers such as Mr Thian Boon Hua of Boon Tong Kee chicken rice fame and Mr Sulaiman Abu of D'Authentic Nasi Lemak to impart their skills.

Another 17 people are in training in the scheme, which aims to teach 50 fledgling hawker stall operators by November.

It is a collaboration between the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), National Environment Agency (NEA), property firm Knight Frank and The Business Times.

With Singapore's hawkers ageing and few younger ones keen to take their place, the Hawker Master Trainer programme was started with the aim of training up the next generation of hawkers.

It aims to arm "hawkerpreneurs" with Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications in food and beverage, and equip them to work in the 10 hawker centres to be built here in the next three years.

Once they finish their training, one option for graduates is to rent a subsidised incubation stall from the NEA - and five of the new graduates will do so.

Mr Peter Mok banded together with three others to run an Amoy Street stall selling wonton mee and other noodle dishes.

Mr Mok, 54, a former quality assurance inspector, said it was faster to secure a guaranteed incubator stall than bid for an ordinary stall and wait for the results. "Time is not a luxury we can afford," he said.

Another Amoy Street stall by Mr Eng Joo Liang, 49, will sell char kway teow. The two stalls will open next month after renovations.

Five graduates opted to stay on at the trainers' stalls, while three others are bidding on the open market for stalls of their own.

Mr Cedric Ng, 45, chose to stay with Boon Tong Kee for an extra three-month part-time stint. "If you stay, you can learn even more," he said.

The graphic designer has no immediate plans to continue in the hawker business beyond his stint which ends next month, but has not ruled out opening a chicken rice stall here or overseas in future.

Others, such as Ms Noor Marina Salleh, 37, had some prior industry experience. Ms Marina, who trained with D'Authentic Nasi Lemak, ran a stall at Temasek Polytechnic and is bidding to run a hawker stall with a three-year lease in Sims Place.

She said the incubator stalls' year-long lease would not be long enough to recoup her investments in equipment and signage. "It takes money to start up a stall, and if you have to find another place after a year, that also takes money," she said.

High rents were also a concern among the trainees, particularly as news broke on Sunday of another eatery, Tiong Bahru's Hong Kong Jin Tian outlet, moving after a 50 per cent rent hike.

The WDA also announced yesterday that five more stalls have joined the list of master trainers: Casuarina Curry, Fatty Cheong Roasted Meat, Ha Ha Big Prawn Noodle, Hwa Xing Bak Kut Teh and Nam Kee Teochew Fish Porridge.

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