New programme will see experienced hawkers mentor aspiring newcomers

Mentor Syafiq Lee (left) and Gary Lim, are mentor and trainee respectively under the Hawkers’ Development Programme.
Mentor Syafiq Lee (left) and Gary Lim, are mentor and trainee respectively under the Hawkers’ Development Programme.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Experienced hawkers will mentor those aspiring to start their own business and provide apprenticeship as part of a new programme officially launched on Monday (Jan 20).

The Hawkers' Development Programme, which was jointly developed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and SkillsFuture Singapore, took into account feedback from participants of previous hawker initiatives, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor.

"If your food is good, Singaporeans will travel from across the island for it. For aspiring hawkers, it can be a struggle to get your dish from good to great," she added.

This is why the advice from veteran hawkers can be invaluable, said Dr Khor at the event held at Ci Yuan Community Club in Hougang.

"NEA and the People's Association's Hawker Fare Series have been bringing in veteran hawkers to share their recipes and nifty cooking tips with aspiring hawkers."

The programme will also provide training, where participants are educated on basic food safety and hygiene, culinary skills, as well as business management skills.

They will also learn how to leverage social media and food delivery apps to further their customer outreach, one training aspect that existing hawkers can also tap to upgrade their business, said Dr Khor.

Once the participants have completed the training and apprenticeship stages of the programme, they can then try their hand at running their business under the incubation stage.

This complements the Incubation Stall Programme that was launched in February 2018, which aims to reduce the upfront costs that aspiring hawkers often face.

 
 
 
 

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who attended the launch, said the local hawker culture has been an important hallmark of Singapore's cultural identity. Singapore has nominated its hawker culture to Unesco to be inscribed on the United Nations agency's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The new programme, he said, was launched to address the hawker trade which may be waning in Singapore.

"As much as hawker culture and hawker culinary art are thriving in Singapore, it does not necessarily mean that people want to ply the trade for a living.

"There are challenges that make people hesitate - long hours, hard work, business risks. So just passion alone, though a very good starting point, is not enough."

The programme aims to mitigate challenges through its comprehensive mentorship curriculum. At just 28 years old, Mr Syafiq Lee has signed up to be a mentor.

Four years ago, he started Ashes Burnnit, a burger joint at the Golden Mile Food Centre.

"Figuring out how to operate a business with no experience was one of the biggest challenges, so I would really like to help others ease into the stage of setting up."

Starting out the business was a huge risk for Mr Lee and his two friends, with the trio pouring their life's savings into the company, with no guarantee of success.

Now managing the business alone, Mr Lee said his monthly revenue is currently a five-figure sum.

 
 

Mr Gary Lim, 39, was among 26 aspiring hawkers who completed an abridged version of the programme earlier.

He hopes to set up a hawker stall in the next three to six months.

Mr Lim declined to disclose what he intends to sell but said he wants to recreate traditional hawker food that he feels are important to the local heritage.

The former chemical engineer, who had worked in Australia, said he was inspired after discovering that some of his favourite hawker stalls were disappearing from the scene.

On Monday, the Federation of Merchants Associations of Singapore - which represents stall owners at NEA hawkers and markets - and the Nanyang Polytechnic-Asian Culinary Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote a greater awareness of the programme.

Correction note: This story has been corrected to say that Singapore has nominated its hawker culture to Unesco to be inscribed on the UN agency's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.