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Speech at The Opening of Hope Cafe

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health , Manpower, Auditorium, Institution B5, Cluster B, Changi Prison Complex

Mr Chng Hwee Hong, Chairman, Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE)

Mr Soh Wai Wah, Director, Prisons

Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive, Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA)

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

  1. A very good afternoon to one and all. It is my pleasure to join you at the official opening of the Hope Café - a training kitchen and restaurant where offenders learn how to work and operate in a Food & Beverage (F&B) outlet.  

    Employment Support is Key to Reintegration Journey
  2. Each year, about 9,000 offenders are released from prison and many of them face difficulty reintegrating into society. Helping offenders prepare for, find and keep their jobs, is therefore critical for their reintegration journey. It is important to ensure that offenders are trained in relevant skills before their release. These skills will bring both tangible and intangible benefits – the offenders will gain an increased level of self-confidence, be meaningfully employed, develop good work habits, and ultimately, positively organize their lives.
  3. Singapore has a vibrant and thriving Hospitality and F&B scene. Since 2009, output from the F&B industry has increased by 5.8% per year1.  

    Singaporeans’ enormous appetite for eating out has given rise to an incredible variety of F&B outlets, from upmarket eateries and restaurants to inexpensive cafes. In 2012, there were about 6,7002 establishments in the F&B industry, the demand for skilled manpower has correspondingly increased significantly over the past five years. There were more than 6,000 vacancies in the F&B sector last year3. This presents a great opportunity for us to grow a pool of trained workers to take on jobs in these sectors.
  4. I am therefore happy that the WDA has partnered SCORE to provide offenders with the opportunity to acquire the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Certificate in Culinary Arts and core modules in WSQ Certificate in F&B Operations, while serving time in prison.
  5. Offenders will be able to acquire industry-specific skills through these courses to prepare themselves for jobs in the Hospitality and F&B industries. The set up of the Hope Café by WDA, SCORE and Singapore Prison Services (SPS) takes this support to a whole new level, by creating a realistic training environment for the inmates. A total of 154 offenders have successfully undergone training since the set-up of the Hope Café last November, and SCORE is targeting to train another 204 offenders by the end of this year.

    Hope Café - Skills Upgrading for Better Job Opportunities
  6. The Hope Café provides offenders with the opportunity to apply the skills they have acquired through practical training and helps them gain a better understanding of what it is like to work in the Hospitality and F&B industries. Ex-offenders who have undergone training are able to command better salaries and increase their chances to take on better jobs.

    Having a stable job with steady income allows them to provide for themselves and their family, and this reduces the chances of recidivism.
  7. Earlier today, I met two ex-offenders who have benefitted from WSQ training. They are Koh Thye Jin and Mirwazy.
  8. Thye Jin, aged 35, joined Ristorante Pietrasanta as a pastry trainee in March this year. During his incarceration, he developed a keen interest for pastry making while helping out with pastries production at the prison workshops. Determined to pursue a career in the F&B industry, Thye Jin took up a WSQ Certificate in Culinary Art while in prisons, to learn the different techniques which he now puts to good use in his day-to-day work. His supervisor, Mr Massimini Loris, also shared that it was easier to teach Thye Jin on the job, as he possessed the foundational knowledge and competencies. I am told his supervisor is very pleased with his performance and has expanded his job scope to include food preparation and to take on the additional role of an assistant cook.
  9. Mirwazy, aged 33, had some experience working in the Hospitality and F&B industry before his incarceration. He wanted to rejoin the industry after serving his time. So while in prison, he pursued and completed core modules in WSQ Certificate in Food and Beverage Operations and even secured a job with Burger King as a Management Trainee before his release. He shared that the skills acquired from WSQ training gave him the confidence to interact more effectively with his customers and to respond to their feedback. The training also taught him how to manage his shift operations more efficiently. Due to his outstanding performance, his employer entrusted him to oversee the outlet within his first three months at work.
  10. Both Thye Jin and Mirwazy are here with us today. They have demonstrated that an ex-offender can be as competent as any other worker, if given the right skills training and support at work.

    Strong Employer Support to Make the Difference
  11. I am also heartened to learn that the number of employers in the Hospitality and Food & Beverage industries partnering SCORE has increased significantly from 175 in 2008 to 791 to date. This shows that more employers in this sector are receptive towards hiring based on merit and skills, regardless of background or past records. I would like to take this opportunity to commend all of you who have supported ex-offenders in their re-integration journeys.  
  12. I urge all employers from the industry to do your part to support ex-offenders at work by embracing inclusive work practices. Some of you are already doing so with on-the-job training, assignment of buddies and regular engagement with ex-offenders. The Government will continue to help to improve the skills of ex-offenders through initiatives such as Hope Café, so that enlightened employers will not only implement inclusive employment practices, but also tap on this pool of trained manpower. Thank you.

1 Figures provided by Department of Statistics, Singapore
2 Figures provided by Department of Statistics, Singapore
3 Labour Market Survey, MOM