Serving up a fresh new start
While Timbre Group was founded with the social mission to develop the music scene Singapore, the group has also been leaving an impact on society by hiring ex-offenders to work in its food and beverage (F&B) outlets.
“Over the past 10 years of Timbre’s existence, we’ve been hiring ex-inmates openly. We’ve always had a very unbiased approach to hiring, and we always believe in giving people a second chance,” Edward Chia, Managing Director, Timbre Group, says.
Now Timbre, along with other members of the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS), can play an even bigger role in helping ex-offenders build successful careers in the industry.
To strengthen efforts to help ex-offenders make an entry into the F&B sector, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) and RAS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in August.
This agreement seals the agencies’ commitment to help suitable ex-offenders secure jobs upon their release. It also promotes successful retention in the industry by engaging F&B employers to build good HR practices and supportive work environments.
A structured approach
A person who is imprisoned goes through different phases of incarceration. In the last phase of their sentence, SCORE prepares them for employment so they can step out into the community with support once their sentence is complete.
At least six months before their release, SCORE assesses inmates’ employment needs and level of commitment. Based on their job readiness, they are then guided towards industries that match their skills and traits. Those who are found suitable for jobs in the F&B industry attend Workplace Skills Qualification (WSQ) training in culinary skills or F&B operations. These take place at Hope Café, a specialist F&B training facility within the Changi Prison Complex.
After they complete their training, SCORE will contact companies who have suitable vacancies on their behalf. Employers are brought in to interview the inmates while they are still in prison and hiring decisions are made on the spot. This allows the inmate to secure a job before they actually step out of prison.
SCORE also provides job retention support for six months. Job coaches from SCORE will visit the workplace, communicate with the supervisors, and help the ex-inmates adapt to the working environment.
Quality workers for quality employers
“We have placed people with F&B employers in the past, but with the support of RAS, we are now able to get quality employers to come on board,” Juliana Abdul Khalik, Director of Reintegration at SCORE, says. “It’s not just about securing jobs for the offenders, but securing jobs that will help them to stay in and sustain at work.”
Under the MOU, SCORE will place 100 ex-offenders per year to RAS employers, and work towards a good retention rate. As most of the ex-offenders under the SCORE programme have completed relatively longer sentences and have very sporadic work experience, Juliana acknowledges the challenge lies in trying to keep them in the job.
The deal will also allow SCORE to work with employers who have very structured HR practices, helping them to assist their new staff to adapt to the work environment.
“Based on our experience working with employers so far, some of the good practices we have come across include having a good and structured training framework,” Juliana says.
For example, Commonwealth Capital, which owns and manages retail points under dining brands such as Swissbake and PastaMania, assigns buddies to ex-offenders so that they can guide them and provide the support they need for work, as well as emotional support. “We’ve been keeping in touch with them, and engaging them from the HR perspective through the supervisors and operational managers as well,” the company’s Senior Manager of Group HR Shaun Ee shares.
Commonwealth Capital has been hiring ex-convicts since 2010 but last year began making inroads with SCORE. Today, the company has five former inmates as employees under the SCORE framework.
Ee says this group of employees is motivated to make a difference not just to their own lives, but for the betterment of their families as well.
Similarly, while Timbre Group has been hiring ex-offenders since its beginnings, the company officially got on board with the SCORE programme in May this year. It has hired five employees under the SCORE framework.
“One of the advantages of the programme is that the ex-inmates are well-trained with WSQ qualifications, and they have integrated much better than those we hired on our own,” Chia says. “I think that’s a credit to SCORE’s structured programme.”
Easing into the workplace
To help ex-offenders adapt to their new jobs, most employers also provide their own comprehensive training programmes.
“Most of the restaurants who are participating in this programme have very structured training programmes, including on-the-job training. They will also need to relook at some of their HR policies to ensure that the ex-offenders are well taken care of,” says Vincent Tan, Vice President, RAS.
Additionally, the ex-offenders are treated like any other employee.
SCORE shares that the ex-inmates’ backgrounds are on a need-to-know basis only, which means none of the other team members are aware. They are seen as any other Singaporean who joins the company.
At Timbre, employees including former inmates are aware about their career progression prospects from day one. Chia shares that a former inmate has aspirations to be an outlet manager in five years. “We sat him down and showed him the career progression plan and what he needs to do to get to the next level. We told him, if you have a five-year plan and if you work hard, we will also work hard to get you through the system. So I think it’s also important to understand their aspirations and ambitions, match them with our HR policies, and make a concerted effort to help them get there.”
In fact, some of the ex-inmates hired many years ago are chefs and managers at Timbre today. “They go through the same system and if they perform well, the sky is the limit for them,” Chia says.
Valuable economic resources
Ex-offenders represent a key source of talent in the F&B sector, particularly given the current shortage of local workers.
“The current manpower situation is quite tight for the whole industry, so with another channel of workforce coming in, I think it will help us to lighten up the labour situation,” Tan says. “We also think it is a very meaningful agreement because we provide the ex-offenders another chance to join the workforce and that will let them integrate with the society.”
He added with the structured programmes in place, the ex-offenders have a chance for career advancement, giving them a bigger opportunity to “make it from there”.
Juliana agrees the arrangement provides a two-pronged solution; giving former prisoners the chance to start their life anew, and helping employers in terms of having skilled manpower.
Employers are also on the same page on this. “Hiring from SCORE gives us an alternative workforce. Being in the F&B space, we know that labour is one of our biggest crunches today, so what better way than to take advantage of a new pool of talent,” Ee says.
The only way is up
Ee encourages more employers to embark on a partnership with SCORE. He also advises them to be prepared for the journey. “There isn’t a one-stop solution for managing ex-offenders so sometimes we need to be patient. Have the right buddy system in place, and the right supervisors and managers as well,” he says.
Chia adds employers will not be alone along the journey as the SCORE officers are there to help find the right placements, and liaise with the former inmates to monitor their progress in the first six months. “So if they are shy about telling us the problems, at least they can go to somebody else and we can work together with the SCORE officers,” he says.
He echoes the programme is a good and sustainable source of well-trained local manpower.
“I see no downside to it,” he says.
Did you know?
A statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) assists about 2,000 inmates with employment opportunities each year. Ex-offenders in Singapore are covered under existing manpower legislation that protect workers’ interests, and SCORE also works with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices to promote fair employment among employers.
Hope on a platter
Hope Café, a training kitchen and restaurant within Changi Prison Complex, opened in November 2013.
The facility provides inmates with skills upgrading and employment preparation while they are still serving their prison terms. They are equipped with industry-relevant skills to secure jobs in the hospitality industry after their release.
Inmates earn a Workplace Skills Qualification (WSQ) certificate in either Food and Beverage Operations, or Culinary Arts.
The alignment with the WSQ framework gives prospective employers more hiring confidence as there is consistency in training.
To facilitate smooth transitions into the workforce, job coaches from the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) are assigned to the employees to address work-related issues, and help them navigate other reintegration challenges.
As of April this year, a total of 496 offenders have successfully undergone training at Hope Café.
The training programmes at the Hope Café facility will be further enhanced through close collaboration with employers.
Hope Café is a joint initiative by SCORE, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and the Singapore Prison Service.