(Source : Wah & Hua Pte Ltd)
Roxie Wang, 24, is a graduate from Republic Polytechnic’s Industrial and Operations Management course. After a 6-month internship at Wah & Hua Pte Ltd (a waste management company), she has been working full-time at Wah & Hua for 3 years now! As a Project Engineer, she handles their special projects and works on developing the business.
“I see this industry as a sunrise industry and I feel like I’m doing something right for the environment. A country cannot work without the waste management industry. As long as there are people, there will be waste. There has to be someone collecting and recycling, and settling all the waste for them. To my younger friends, I’d say “don’t be so picky!” as this is a sexy industry. I really like this job and working with Melissa (her boss). I learn new things from Melissa everyday. She’s my mentor both for work and for Life.” -Roxie
To find out what draws millennials like Roxie to the waste management industry (and what convinces them to stay), I spoke with Melissa Tan, Director of Wah & Hua Pte Ltd and Chairman of the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS).
Melissa and Roxie (in striped outfit) with one of their new trucks:
#1: You joined Wah & Hua when you were 21 too! What made you decide to join the family business?
Back then, this company was a very, very small business. We did not have a place of our own; we had to rent, and relocate often. There came a point when my father told me that I had to help out or the business won’t be able to survive.
I’m a tax accountant by training. It has now been 16 years since I joined Wah & Hua. And I have no regrets!
We have indeed come a long way. Back then, there was never land catered for the waste management business. We were the first company to have JTC land for this business. Back in 2001/2002, JTC rented out parcels of land to companies, and we had to sub-let from them. Because of fears of water and land poisoning, we had to guarantee that we can do a proper job before we could have our own premises.
#2: So what did you do to turn a struggling business around, especially when there wasn’t a lot of support from the government?
Service is the key. If you’ve promised your customer something, you’d better deliver it. As we are also in the recycling business, we also have to take special care of things like intellectual property. Any item which bears our customers’ logo or trademark has to go through proper processes before being recycled.
We’ll also have to keep brainstorming ways for us to sustain this business. But it is a necessary business (which is also recession proof) because as long as there are people, we’ll generate waste. Right now, the younger generation do know about the concept of recycling, based on what they learn in schools. When fulfilling our contract with NEA at Orchard Road and MRT stations, we noticed that people DO bring products for us to recycle.
#3: Many industries face manpower shortages. What about your company?
It’s the same here too. What we do here might appear to be “not as glamorous” as say, working at Shenton Way.
We need drivers, drivers’ assistants, administrators, sorters, etc. You might think that as long as you are willing to pay good money, people will come. But they won’t. We’ve also tried to find workers via other sources: newspapers, the Yellow Ribbon project, autistic schools, associations for the handicapped, etc.
Unfortunately, we need human labor for sorting and other jobs. Also, because of international laws, we cannot export our waste; we have to deal with it here.
While we work on our “packaging” and branding as part of our recruitment efforts, we are proud of the low turnover rate here.
We definitely need more women to return to work. Or we’ll forever face a manpower crunch. We’ll have to look to the government to provide more incentives to coax women back into the workforce, and for bosses to offer things like flexi-work to encourage women to stay in their jobs.
#4: What do you do to keep workers in the company?
We pay well! 😀 Money aside, I don’t see myself as “the Boss’s daughter”. I sit down together with the workers, we communicate, there are career progression opportunities and we send our workers for good courses.
We have a 50-50 mix of locals and foreigners. And their average age is about 40 to 45 years old. Many of our drivers are in their 50s and have been working here since my father’s time.
I believe many stay on because of the family-like culture here. There was a time when one of our drivers, Mr Yong, suffered a stroke. He’s the sole breadwinner in his family, he has kids but unfortunately, his licence was revoked after the stroke. We got him to stay on by letting him choose which position he wanted in the company. So he’s now our security guard on the evening shift and we even maintained his salary range.
#5: It is clear that this company’s 人情味 (having a heart for people) inspires employee loyalty. But what’s the pay like for most of the workers?
For our drivers, they earn upwards of S$2,000. The more hardworking ones can earn S$3,000 to S$4,000, working 6-day weeks from about 6 or 7am to 7pm. Once the order is delivered, it’s taken that you’ve completed your job for the day. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to recruit female drivers, even for our small pickups. Due to misconceptions people have about this industry, they pre-suppose that it’s tougher than other jobs elsewhere. However, if you are a bus driver, and you urgently need to pee while driving, you have to hold it in. Here, you are able to stop your vehicle and take a quick break if you need to!
As for sorters, they earn around S$2,000+. People in this role are largely Malaysians. We have just two Singaporeans – one auntie and one male worker. The auntie has been with us for over 6 years! Because we don’t handle food waste, there isn’t a bad smell but what we deal with can be dusty. Thus, we have systems to manage the dust levels, and our staff wear masks and gloves.
#6: How else has Wah & Hua used technology – to raise productivity, for instance?
The use of technology has raised our productivity levels by over 30%. Take sorting, for instance, we’ll soon have a 100% automated system.
Right now, all of our trucks come with remote-controlled covers. Each of these cost S$16,000 to install!
With the press of a button, the truck gets covered:
Melissa calls her drivers “unsung heroes” and it’s easy to see why. Even when the weather is hot, they wear their helmets and boots (for workplace safety) and they do jobs which many do not envy. However, with investments in technology, and appreciative bosses, what these workers do may not be thankless tasks for much longer.
NTUC’s U SME, set up to help SMEs and their workers address their challenges, has been engaging Wah & Hua Pte Ltd, and other members of the WMRAS in roundtable discussions to further understand their business and worker concerns.
One project that U SME and Wah & Hua Pte Ltd are working on is strengthening the Singaporean core of workers via the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme (LEDs).
Graphic: Lean Enterprise Development Scheme (ST/MOM)
U SME also organizes workshops (registration link here) to help SME workers get the latest updates on Employment Act, Workplace Safety and Health Act etc.
NTUC members can use the Union Training Assistance Programme (UTAP) to offset 50% of the course fees, up to $250 a year.
Graphic: NTUC U SME Human Resource Series 2016 workshops for SME workers (Source: NTUC)
As our government is also looking at ways we can manage our waste better, and improve household recycling rates, it is easy to see why forward-looking millennials like Roxie are drawn to this “sunrise” and (some say) “sexy” industry.