SINGAPORE — 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.