Labour Crunch? Park Hotel Group Shows How To Deal With It

I was introduced to the Park Hotel Group’s HR team last month because they wanted to showcase how they’ve gotten around the labour crunch that many organizations are experiencing, due to new restrictions on foreign labour and other factors.

It was the usual litany of woes: not enough Singaporeans want to work as housekeepers, cleaners, waiters or front desk staff – the entry level vocations in the industry. Or even if there were, there were still staffing issues like rostering round the clock, since a hotel is essentially a 24/7 business.

Thankfully, a very proactive HR management team worked with the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to create a new vocation called the Park Hotel HOST (Hotel Operations Specialist Team). People who were shortlisted and eventually employed under this HOST scheme were generally dynamic individuals looking to work in the hotel industry.

Essentially, a Park Hotel HOST would undergo 7 weeks of training in the areas of housekeeping, food and beverage (F&B) and front office. Once he completes it, he will ride on the full-time roster of 8-hour shifts (7 am – 3pm, 3 pm – 11 pm and 11 pm – 7am).

A typical morning-shift work would begin in the hotel’s breakfast outlet, where he’d be supporting the full-time F&B staff with serving hotel guests. By 10.30 am when the breakfast room begins to turn around for lunch service, the HOST will take an hour’s break before being deployed to the Housekeeping division to help with rooms cleaning for the next 4-5 hours.

An afternoon shift HOST will begin his day at the Housekeeping and after dinner break helps with F&B dinner service at the restaurants. Night shifts will see the HOST multi-tasking at the Front Desk handling Reception, Telephone and Reservations Sales.

The benefits to the organisation are obvious – there are fewer unused man hours because you don’t get as many staff of one department sitting around doing nothing while the other department is going about like headless chickens because they’re too busy.

Plus, cross-training staff in this manner helps the staff member learn and understand the challenges of each department in the organisation. It’s always useful to have a front desk person know exactly what to say and do when a hotel guest says he can’t find the switch that operates the blinds in the bathroom, for example; or if there is a last minute request to make-up a room in the night when the Housekeeping is closed for the day.

Park Hotel Group ensures that personnel in the HOST scheme are remunerated more than a single-skill staff member – not least because there is actually quite a bit more work for a HOST personnel to perform in the same number of working hours. However in return for having more skills and being more productive, the basic pay for a HOST personnel is around $1,800 and he is put on a fast-track career path.

While the scheme is currently open to new employees of the hotel group, the HR department is currently working on allowing current single skill employees to be inducted and trained as well. One employee who was previously single-skilled saw his pay jump 50% from $1,200 to $1,800 because of his higher productivity and triple-skilling, not to mention greater responsibilities.

One would also imagine that such a Progressive Wage Model provides a clear path for career advancement – you’d want to pick candidates for management training from the HOST scheme if you were HR.

It’s amazing that not more organisations are doing what the Park Hotel Group is doing. It’s not as if there isn’t help to get you started. The Group did receive significant assistance from e2i for designing the training schedule, innovation to speed up and make employee’s tasks easier – such as passport scanners at front desk, and a guest bed that rises so the housekeeper (many of whom are older workers) doesn’t have to strain his/her back changing the sheets.

What was also impressive was the fact that the hotel group’s HR department felt that the benefits of these measures taken to improve the skill sets of their staff far outweighed the risk of losing these same staff to other organisations, now that they were so skilled.

More importantly, the staff members I got a chance to speak to were happy employees even though their main gripe was that there really was a lot of work. They did also state that they were grateful for an employer who is forward thinking enough to know that investing in staff reaps real rewards.

Hardware, Heartware and Headwear

The Facebook group “Love My Country Love My Hijab” is a discussion we’ve avoided for too long. It’s time we brought it out into the open and be bold but careful in declaring what our principles are as a nation.

It seems to me that we parade terms like “multiculturalism” and “racial harmony” while actually meaning “tolerating in spite of our differences”. It is time we recognised our differences and embrace them. Our ethnicity, beliefs and values want to be recognised because of what they are. It doesn’t matter if, as some people have put it, the hijab/tudung issue is a “recent phenomenon of Islamisation”.

It’s helpful to know that Sikhism was once considered a new religion, having been established in 1699. It is in the Sikh Reht Maryada that a Sikh is forbidden to cut his/her hair, and must wear hair unshorn. The conspicuous religious wearing of a turban has long been allowed in workplaces including that of military and civil services, as well as in exception to rules which govern the wearing of safety headgear in motoring.

At the very least, we should begin discussion about the tudung or hijab and the freedom to practice our beliefs.

Fixing Low Wages: Buck Also Stops At Employers’

Out of curiosity, I attended the Ordinary Delegates’ Conference of the National Trades Union Congress at Far Far Away Country Club (Orchid Country Club) on Tuesday.

As with many things to do with Singapore, there’s little pomp and ceremony to do with these things if you were to compare with our neighbouring countries: it is said that the world stands still when a Malaysian minister attends the opening of an umbrella.

There was still some ritual involved – calling the conference to order and declaring quorum and all that. But I was a bit disappointed to discover that union leaders were now addressing each other as “brother” and “sister”, much like a mega-church congregation, rather than the historically more significant and gender-neutral “comrade”.

OK enough of my frivolity and nongsern. More serious reactions to what was said at the NTUC Ordinary Delegates’ Conference by Ministers and union leaders were predictably swift.

Most of the complaints come from people who are not convinced that the government is making efforts to improve the lot of lower wage workers primarily because they feel that low-wages were made endemic by policies of the same government which were intended to fix a critical labour shortage.

Tripartism – a term often bandied about by the labour movement – refers to the workings of the unions, the government and employers in concert.

I don’t think there’s any other jurisdiction in the world where it’s been so effective for so long. But tripartism is only as effective as the weakest link.

With unions pushing for better wages through Progressive Wage Model and the government handing out subsidies, the slack seems to be appearing in the third partner’s hands. Sadly it is the employers who are directly in control of workers’ wages.

Still, it is helpful to note that attempting to achieve equilibrium between the labour market and the economic and social health of the nation is always going to be a fluid task that never ends. That’s why I’m thankful for those among our leaders who are able to recognise bottlenecks as they appear, have the political will and ability to make running repairs while attempting to define and crystallise the will of the people.

Are We Outsourcing Our Social Responsibility?

A couple of weeks back I was invited to speak on a panel discussing a Clean & Green Singapore. I said agreed because I had always wanted to meet Sivasothi, one of Singapore’s leading environmentalists. We’ve known of each other since the term “blog” was invented, but for reasons uninvestigated, we had never actually met.

The discussion panel took its predicted path down governmental measures lane and civic mindedness alley and it was only when Siva spoke about what he did to the students he taught at NUS that I really began listening (sorry NEA, rest of panel – it was one of those days I was triple-booked).

Siva, who later shared my regret that we weren’t as entertaining and fiery as we should have been, has this fabulous requirement of his students. They are required to put their chairs back in place after a lecture has concluded. And – this will blow your socks off if you weren’t wearing slippers like the sloppy Singaporean you are – he makes his students find out the name of the cleaner who cleans the areas in and around the lecture theatres!

Then I started thinking about what had been spoken earlier in the discussion: that Singapore is not a clean city – it is a cleaned city. We don’t see, and neglect to care about the dusk to dawn army of cleaning workers who pick up our garbage in the streets and parks at night.

I’ve mentioned how we delegate our personal responsibilities to so many people that we’ve forgotten we have these responsibilities. Not only do we not know who takes away our trash, we don’t even take out our own trash.

Earlier in the week, I left for work at the same time the guy from the cleaning company was mopping the floor at our lift lobby. I said good morning and he jumped out of his skin. I decided not to startle him further, and will ask for his name next time we meet.

At a meeting a fortnight ago, a bunch of young entrepreneurs was telling us about the disparity between the cleaning company’s contract fee and the actual salary of the person actually doing the job. Yes, there are cleaners who are getting paid $800 a month or less.

It’s a lot more complicated than just saying ‘yes, we need to pay the cleaners more’,  and the tyranny of modern economic conveniences will mean that business owners will still want to engage a cleaning company than to employ a cleaner directly.

It follows that something needs to be done about the people who are directly employing the cleaners. And apparently, something that will pay them more than a mandatory minimum wage, like the progressive wage model I wrote about earlier will come into being next year. Here’s hoping it works out well.

But as I was saying on that panel that evening, if you want a more caring, compassionate society, you have to start thinking of the consequences of every action. There are things within your means you can do to help low wage workers like cleaners.

You want to care about the cleaners who are paid little? Make their job easier. Pick up after yourselves, return your tray, push your chair back after you get up.

I sit on the management council of the condo we live in, and I went on a little power trip at a meeting last week. The security guard company we hire had requested for a fee increase. I voted ok as long as we know that the two guards, who look after our premises and make sure no idiots anyhowly park in our car park, have a commensurate pay increase as well. We even voted on a little thing – making sure there’s enough mosquito repellent in the guard house so they don’t kenah dengue.

I’ve just found out that what we were doing was this thing called “best-sourcing”, which is gahmen-speak for outsourcing in a conscious, conscientious and socially responsible way. And like many things about this fine country, there’s even a monetary incentive to do so.

But as we become increasingly out-sourcery, we must not let ourselves or our corporations outsource our social responsibilities.

I think it’s time I called another council meeting.

The Future Looks Straight And Narrow

Good job on tweaking Medisave/Medishield; PSLE; Changi Airport.

But we cannot keep treating GLBT, singles, unwed and divorced parents as second class citizens. Being GLBT single, unwed or divorced does not diminish their potential to fulfil their so-called roles in society. But pegging housing affordability to officially heterosexually married status states the opposite.

Just as Malaysia’s pro-Bumiputra policies as regards education and public service has effected a terrible talent drain in the past decade, so will continuing to uphold such unfairness in our country. And our people are our only resources.