Hawker training programme with mostly young participants so popular it had to be suspended

By Linette Heng 
The New Paper
June 10, 2016

A career as a hawker is becoming hotter, going by the response that one organisation had to suspend its hawker training programme. 

Response from hawker-wannabes was so good that the company had to suspend the programme. 

There are no places left in the hawker centre run by Fei Siong Food Management. 

It launched its entrepreneurship programme last year to train hawkers and it received more than 60 applications for 18 spots. 

The trained hawkers were placed in Ci Yuan Hawker Centre at Hougang. 

It received more than 40 inquiries even after applications closed last year. 

Some applicants were from as far away as Australia. 

Fei Siong's group managing director Tan Kim Siong, himself a former hawker of 13 years, said: 

"Most of them are young, with an average age of 30. They include diploma or university graduates." 

The selection process is stringent. Factors considered include personality and attitude, said Mr Tan. 

"We also made sure that they are aware that (being a hawker involves) a lot of manual work and that the hours are long," he added. 

Last month, the programme received the National Trades Union Congress May Day Partnership Award for supporting skills upgrading in the workplace and building a strong partnership with the labour movement. 

Under Fei Siong's programme, workers are paid a monthly salary of $3,000 for the first three months before they start their own stalls. 

If they do not start a stall, they have the option of being deployed to other roles within Fei Siong. 

The company owns eateries and foodcourts in shopping malls, including Tangs Market in Tangs Orchard, Malaysia Boleh! foodcourt in Jurong Point and the Eat chain of noodle shops. 

One of the hawkers in the entrepreneurship programme is Miss Joey Teo, 27, a former logistics assistant. 

She is now selling satay beehoon and laksa at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre.

Fei Siong's entrepreneurship programme is aimed at preserving local hawker food, especially among the younger generation, and Mr Tan hopes to expand the programme to new hawker centres. 

The demand for hawker training is likely to grow, especially given the Government's plans for 20 new hawker centres by 2027. 


In April, the National Environment Agency announced a committee to review hawker centres and the hawker trade in Singapore. 

The committee, which will submit its recommendations by next year, will be proposing ideas to safeguard hawker heritage and attract and support those who wish to enter the hawker trade, such as by having structured training programmes. 

Mr Koh Seng Choon, executive director of social enterprise Project Dignity, thinks there will be greater interest in hawker training. 

Since 2012, 3,000 people have been trained to be hawkerpreneurs or have taken modular courses by Project Dignity, said Mr Koh. 

These courses are recognised by the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications and are subsidised for Singaporeans and PRs. 

People who joined the courses include existing hawkers and mid-career individuals who are new to the business, said Mr Koh. 

Besides running a stall at hawker centres, they have the option of working in school canteens, industrial parks and foodcourts. 

He said: "You won't be a millionaire (if you run a stall), but you can earn a reasonable income." 


Under Fei Siong's programme, workers are paid a monthly salary of $3,000 for the first three months before they start their own stalls. 

We also made sure that they are aware that (being a hawker involves) a lot of manual work and that the hours are long. - Fei Siong's group managing director Tan Kim Siong 

Meet the new hawker-preneurs 

'Cafes are too common' 

Who: Miss Joey Teo, 27, selling satay beehoon and laksa 

Past: Diploma in psychology, pursuing a part-time degree in business, former logistics assistant 

Why: "My friends thought that I wouldn't be able to stand the heat and stand for long hours, but I always wanted to open a stall selling laksa because it is my favourite dish.

"Opening a cafe is too common nowadays and I also had to consider factors like capital. 

"Manpower is my biggest challenge. I now hire two part-time assistants to help me. 

"Initially, I had problems commanding respect among my staff because of my age. I have to learn to be respectful and firm at the same time." 

‘My mum worried over my scars' 

Who: Mr Derrick Lee, 30, selling chicken rice at Ah Khoon Authentic Chicken Rice 

Past: Business graduate from National University of Singapore, operations executive at an offshore marine company for three years 

Why: "There were push and pull factors. The career prospects at my previous job were not good and I saw this chance as a stepping stone to get into the F&B industry. 

"I have plans to expand the stall and I need to get the fundamentals right first. 

"My mum was worried at first when she saw the scars on my hand from using the knife and she was concerned about the long hours. 

"But my dad encouraged me. He thinks youngsters should go out and try their hand at entrepreneurship." 

‘Good food makes people happy’ 

Who: Mr Anthony Chia, 49, selling fragrant hot pot 

Past: Cleaning operations manager with Fei Siong, was previously in the F&B line for 28 years 

Why: "In my previous job, I went to Beijing to learn about the hotpot concept. I've had an interest in cooking since I was nine. 

"I think that good food will make people happy and I jumped at the opportunity when I heard there was a stall vacancy." 

The New Paper tried his hot pot dish, consisting of chicken, vegetables and mushroom, and found it a refreshing dish, even in the sweltering heat. 

‘If I don’t try now, then when?’ 

Who: Mr Ivan Seow, 34, selling noodles 

Past: Operations manager 

Why: "Some people commented that being a hawker is a downgrade, but I see it as a good chance to have my own stall as I have a passion for cooking. 

"Besides, there will always be a demand for hawker food and the rental is low. 

"I'm already 34. If I don't try now, when will I get the chance again? 

"My wife was worried about our finances at first, but I'm earning about the same as my previous job and I can work around my schedule to spend time with her on her day off."

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