A small company with a big heart

Published Sun, Dec 17, 2017 · 09:50 PM


DO a Google search on cleaning services in Singapore, and a myriad appear, anything from dry-cleaning services to housekeeping facilities.

However, dig a little deeper into service platforms such as Kaodim and Helpling, and a small company which offers cleaning services to a wide range of private and commercial residences will soon appear.

Spic & Span Pte Ltd is a cleaning services outfit staffed by no more than 50 people, whose office is tucked away in Concorde Shopping Centre on Outram Road.

But this is no run-of-the-mill cleaning firm. Its workers are ex-offenders, displaced workers, persons with disabilities, or come from marginalised families.

Spic & Span's intention to hire workers who would otherwise have been discriminated against was no accident.

Fresh from his stint as a civil servant, founder Benjamin Chua, 29, and a friend heard that several older workers were being retrenched, and started a housekeeping company to hire them.

From the outset, Mr Chua decided the company would focus on doing good for society, and hiring the retrenched workers kickstarted it.

"We took it as a call to action," he said.

The company's social outreach grew from there, eventually encompassing the Yellow Ribbon Project, which gives offenders opportunities after prison, and Family Service Centres which provide family counselling services under the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

By working closely with social workers who have similar backgrounds, the company helps participants get back on their feet.

In a recent case, Mr Chua recalls a 68-year-old ex-offender whom he spoke to in prison just before his release. The man had been in and out of prison for about 10 years, and asked for a second chance to turn his life around.

"I said to him, 'This is not your second chance, this is your last chance. You are 68, you cannot afford coming back in again one more time,'" Mr Chua recounted.

The man has been working with Spic & Span for half-a-year, having handled difficult assignments and is doing well, Mr Chua said.

Spic & Span, in operation since 2015, was founded to provide jobs to marginalised Singaporeans through professional cleaning services.

"I believe the main purpose of running a company is to be able to create more jobs that can provide good value to the economy," said Mr Chua.

But companies first must have the support systems ready to manage workers of different backgrounds.

"The methods of managing an ex­offender are different from someone who has special needs," said Mr Chua.

"We build support systems to manage their behaviour, emotions, mindset and social issues."

He added that the hardest part can be helping someone reintegrate into society, especially if they have been in prison for a long time.

"It's quite a shock to them," Mr Chua said, describing cases when ex-offenders got confused with new bus numbers and new train lines springing up.

"For them, the main thing is how they get to work. Do they even have an EZ-link card?

"Sometimes the (Central Narcotics Bureau) officer message them via WhatsApp (for regular drugs testing) and they will get stressed because they don't know how to message back - that's how big the literacy discrepancy can be."

In such cases, the supervisors step in and help to connect them. Management needs to connect well with the rank and file, and staff across every level of the company need to be able to handle such cases.

Mr Chua is cognisant that the cleaning market is extremely competitive, and that the company needed to stand out without selling out.

To that end, Spic & Span has branched out into other areas of facilities management, and the company is training staff in concierge, airport transfer and pest management, among other areas.

"We tell every single one of our new hires that we are hiring them based on their merits and not because of their backgrounds," Mr Chua said.

"We are still learning the ropes of how to manage different workers so that we can also increase our social outreach."

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