Skilling up for a new career

Human resources director New Kheng Tiong, 43, and executive chef Eche Garcia Pau, 32, at FOC Sentosa. The restaurant chain has helped to provide training to individuals who lack the relevant qualifications.
Human resources director New Kheng Tiong, 43, and executive chef Eche Garcia Pau, 32, at FOC Sentosa. The restaurant chain has helped to provide training to individuals who lack the relevant qualifications.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

This new series brought to you by the Ministry of Manpower showcases employment support programmes for workers affected by restructuring. These programmes consider the needs and aspirations of the workforce when matching workers to employers. Training, wage and placement support aims to minimise job mismatches, while a slew of on-site and virtual career fairs organised by Workforce Singapore help connect workers to employers quickly.

Making the cut in Singapore's ever-changing food and beverage (F&B) scene is no easy feat, but the local FOC group of restaurants is determined to help those passionate about the industry to do just that.

"The F&B industry is very dynamic, but it also tends to have very little time for people without the relevant experiences. Most times, employers prefer to hire people who can get to work straightaway in the kitchen," FOC human resources director New Kheng Tiong, 43, said.

"But we're hoping to be able to change this by giving people - who may not have the experience or certificates - a chance, especially those who are really keen and sincere about developing a rewarding career in this thriving industry."

Doing so, noted Mr New, can also help FOC better cope with the chronic manpower shortage that continues to be a major hurdle for almost all F&B players in Singapore.

"As employers, we have to take the first step to change our own mindsets too. We need to realise that not everyone who wants to work in the industry will come with the necessary qualifications, and so we have to provide more opportunities for them."

Since July last year, FOC has helped to provide employment and on-the-job training to individuals even though they lacked the relevant experience, qualifications and skills.

It was able to do this through the Reskilling for Jobs-Work Trial programme, a career service offered by Workforce Singapore and NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute that is aimed at strengthening the employability of workers through a short-term stint with an employer.


    The Reskilling for Jobs-Work Trial aims to strengthen the employability of locals through a short-term stint with an employer.

    It is open to Singaporeans or permanent residents aged 16 years and above who are not employed prior to commencing the Work Trial.

    Individuals can refer to the list of Work Trial vacancies at www.wsg.gov.sg/worktrial_ individuals.

    Employers interested in joining the Work Trial can download the info kit from www.wsg.gov.sg/worktrial_ employers.

For Mr Ryan Siow, 27, who had always wanted to develop a second career as a qualified chef, participating in the programme gave him the opportunity to learn an entirely new set of skills.

"I was pretty much a greenhorn, just cooking at home, but working in a restaurant kitchen is a whole new level," he said.

Mr Siow had been looking for a job for three months in the middle of last year after returning to Singapore from the United States, where he worked for several years as a surfing and wakeboarding instructor. He heard about the job opening for a kitchen cook at FOC during a wakeboarding session with his friends, and jumped at the opportunity. "I wanted to get a job that I would enjoy doing," he said.

FOC hired him at FOC Restaurant in Hong Kong Street under the Work Trial programme in July, and topped up his training allowance from $7.50 an hour, as disbursed under the programme, to $9. It also made CPF contributions for him. The journey was not always easy, recalled Mr Siow, with challenges such as adjusting to the pace in the kitchen, especially during peak hours, mastering knife skills, and memorising what ingredients went into each dish.

"But everyone was very helpful and patient in guiding me through the whole process, which made the learning fun," he said.

His enthusiasm for learning new things and his "can-do" attitude spurred FOC to offer him a full-time job as a commis cook at FOC Sentosa later, as part of the restaurant's pre-opening team.

Mr New said: "His success benefited FOC Sentosa tremendously as he was familiar with the cuisines and standard operating procedures, and he was able to function independently with minimum supervision."

Mr Siow, with more than 90 on-the-job training hours under his belt then, was made a full-time employee at FOC on Aug 1 last year.

Mr New acknowledged that hiring individuals without the relevant job experience and skills, or even those who have been unemployed for a long period of time, may be a challenge for many companies. Older employees, for instance, may also take longer to pick up new skills.

"This is why it is important that we keep an open channel of communication between us, the employer and the new staff, and make sure proper mentorship and guidance is being given," he said.

Mr New is hopeful he will be able to recruit more staff through the programme. He added that what FOC looks for when hiring a fresh face - whether that person is aiming to get a job or making a career switch - remains simple: the right mindset. "For us, it is really all about having the right attitude - having the right attitude to sometimes step down, un-learn and re-learn. If someone is willing to start from scratch, why not?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Skilling up for a new career'. Print Edition | Subscribe