Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Graduate Hawker


Phd (Food Engineering), BSc(Foodfare), Dip in Hawking...


The last bastion of free enterprise and creativity is now under Government control. It is fine to regulate hygiene and health issues in relation to food centres but to require certification for hawkers is uncalled for. 

"Workforce Development Agency (WDA) to set up hawker training centre and to built a pipeline of skilled hawkers". It's really stretched on imaginations to expect our hawkers to hold a Diploma in Hawking or Degree in FoodFare or some form of Certificates! Its an academic oversell!

In early days, hawker stalls and stalls in school canteens were given to financial hardship cases to help them eke out a decent living. Most of them have little or no education. I know many famous eateries and hawkers who take pride in their skills and food knowledge that no amount of formal education can harness. 

Such approach is not unlike an agency creating jobs to self-preserve their relevance and usefulness.

Food preparation and making involves some degrees of risk and skills. The argument that disadvantaged people and/or persons with disabilities can find jobs in hawking or hawker centres simply ignores the risk factors like boiling broth, hot water, fire, sharp objects, quick response and limited working space. 

I do not expect the Authorities to change their mind with this letter but I am hopeful that the Government will leave some areas to entrepreneurship and creativity alone. It's best that the Government do what it does best, that is, to govern with broad guidelines, compassion and meeting the crying needs of the people. 

There are many things that our Government has done well and I pray they will continue to do so. But, there are also pockets of issues that should be left alone to evolve.  

Not everyone can study nor achieve some level of certification but there is definitely many exemplary examples of uneducated and less educated people who made it and punching well above the headlines.

Surely we cannot be a nation of scholars without farmers; we will all be famished. A tertiary graduate may become a hawker (his intelligence, passion and willingness to learn) but its almost impossible for a hawker (he is a skilled 'craftsman', crafting meals) to become a graduate. 

I remembered the person and/or company who created his 'meals on wheels concept'. He was fairly successful. But, after he shared his idea with the Authority and the Agency tweaked and deployed a fairly similar concept, it did not last many years. 

I am concerned that we have given education and academic pursuit too much, almost exclusive, weightage.  


Published in the Straits Times 22/05/12



THE plan by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) to set up a hawker training centre to 'build a pipeline of skilled hawkers' should be reconsidered ('Centre to train future hawkers'; last Friday).
It is a stretch of the imagination to expect hawkers to study for a diploma in hawking or a degree in food fare. If anything, the idea smacks of a bureaucratic oversell.
We should remember that hawker and school canteen stalls started as an informal trade for people who had to earn a living or were facing financial hardship. Most hawkers had little or no education. Those who turned their stalls into foodie haunts had little or no formal education, but that mattered not a jot as they taught themselves the requisite skills and crafted the recipes that made their food famous.
Hawkers are more jazz artists than operatic soloists.
The approach that the WDA is contemplating tries to encourage a creative trade through the rigid confines of bureaucracy: form an agency to create jobs that are self-fulfilling but may have little impact or relevance to the way hawker fare is crafted and enjoyed.
Food preparation involves risk and skills. The argument that disadvantaged people and the disabled can find jobs in
hawking or hawker centres ignores the physical risks of boiling broth and water, fire, sharp objects, swift reflexes and tight working spaces.
The Government should leave well alone some aspects of entrepreneurship and creativity.
It should do what it does best, which is to govern with broad guidelines and lots of patience and understanding.
Not all who excel in what they do best should study or be certified for their skills.
Philip Kwek





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