Hawker centres are set to reinvent themselves. They could be remodelled into spaces hosting community events and a training ground for future generations that will keep the trade alive.
This is the vision of the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee, tasked with breathing life into a sector suffering from an ageing workforce and a shortage of new blood.
The 14-member committee, which spoke to more than 800 people over the last year, has made proposals that could change the hawker centre as we know it.
Centres could come with free Wi-Fi, for instance, or have a centralised dishwashing service and even stalls where aspiring hawkers can try their hand at the trade, according to the committee's report submitted yesterday.
One major issue is the growing demand for food sellers, particularly with 20 more hawker centres expected to be built by 2027. However, it has been hard to attract younger Singaporeans to what they see as a back-breaking profession. Today, the median age of hawkers is 59.
REVAMPING FOOD CENTRES
SUSTAINING THE TRADE AND SUPPORTING NEW ENTRANTS
• Training courses for aspiring hawkers
• Incubation stalls for aspiring hawkers to try out the profession
• Raising the prole of young hawkers
• One-stop information and service centre
• Centralise processes – for example, dishwashing – to improve productivity
• Promote automation for repetitive tasks
• Find new ways to promote tray return
• Encourage clean habits and communal sharing of tables
IMPROVING VIBRANCY OF HAWKER CENTRES
• Ensure good mix of food
• Hold events and activities
• Improve amenities by providing free Wi-Fi and more child-friendly spaces
To make the sector more appealing, the committee's proposals are geared towards supporting new hawkers and raising the productivity of existing ones.
They also aim to turn food centres into social spaces for community events and even performances. This idea is also to encourage a considerate hawker culture - where patrons return trays, for instance.
Said committee chair Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources: "The vision is for our hawker centres to be appealing and vibrant social spaces where people from all walks of life can enjoy affordable and tasty food... and where hawkers can continue to make a decent livelihood."
Mrs Rosa Daniel, committee member and chief executive of the National Heritage Board, pointed out that hawker centres today are more than just places where people gather to eat.
"If you can make it a space where experiences are memorable and enjoyable, that would be better," she said. This effort has already started, with hawker centres featured on heritage trails, for instance.
The committee proposed that a few stalls in some centres be used as "incubation" stalls for aspiring hawkers to experience the profession for some time, and provide structured training in cooking hawker fare and running a hawker business.
Centralised dishwashing services so that hawkers do not have to wash their own dishes, cashless payment systems, as well as equipment that automates repetitive tasks like the chopping of onions and chilli, were also suggested to raise productivity and keep costs low.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said his ministry is studying the report.
Hawkers and patrons welcomed the proposals, though some pointed to the hurdles.
Ms Grace Ow, 36, who runs a Hokkien noodle stall in Bukit Timah Food Centre, pointed out that about $10,000 is needed to start off as a hawker, which deters many.
"The incubation stalls allow them to know if they like the job before taking the plunge," she said.
Foodie K.F. Seetoh, founder of food guide Makansutra, felt some ideas were not new. "But we need action and a diligent call for it," he said.
Administrative manager Karen Kan, 42, said that while the idea of having performances in hawker centres could make them more vibrant, most people just eat and go.
"Moreover, hawker centres are already buzzing with noise and chatter," she said.
• Additional reporting by Lin Yangchen and Carolyn Khew