Upgrading and growing with firm

Production line manager Kuah (above) teaches workers to operate machines. His company once took 10 hours to make 1,000kg of bak kwa (left) daily, but now takes just seven hours.
Production line manager Kuah teaches workers to operate machines. His company once took 10 hours to make 1,000kg of bak kwa (above) daily, but now takes just seven hours.PHOTOS: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION
Production line manager Kuah (above) teaches workers to operate machines. His company once took 10 hours to make 1,000kg of bak kwa (left) daily, but now takes just seven hours.
Production line manager Kuah (above) teaches workers to operate machines. His company once took 10 hours to make 1,000kg of bak kwa daily, but now takes just seven hours.PHOTOS: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Everyone can obtain new skills and adapt to the new economy regardless of age. Take Mr Kuah Leng Kee, 57, of Fragrance Foodstuff Group. He started out 30 years ago as a production operator, performing manual tasks such as slicing meat and manning the oven. Today, the company, founded in 1969, has automated part of its processes, and he is a production line manager who trains staff. He said yesterday: "In my role today, I learn how to guide other people to operate the machines, and supervise them. With the machines allowing us to be more productive, I have time to work on new areas like product packaging. Constant learning makes this job interesting for me."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in the Chinese segment of his National Day Rally speech yesterday, praised Fragrance for its efforts in helping workers gain new skills and upgrade, thus raising their productivity. He said: "(Mr Kuah) works in the same company, but he has a new job - and he feels motivated for he can add more value to his company."

Automation has also helped the firm to cope with a tight labour market. Up to 70 per cent of the processes have been automated, said Fragrance's senior manager Tan Cheng Kwee. In the past, it took 10 hours to produce 1,000kg of bak kwa daily. It now takes seven hours to make that amount. The number of workers needed is also down from 10 to seven now.

"With fewer production hours and workers needed, we can redeploy staff to do other things that machines can't do," said Mr Tan. This includes coming up with new products as Fragrance continues to expand. The firm started out with five shops and now has 38. It has also been selling online in the last few years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Upgrading and growing with firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe