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Learning and growing with the firm

Senior trainer Joreen Ong and senior vice-president for operations Lim Jo Hann with the company's new mobile dishwasher - an industrial dishwasher built into a truck that can clean 70 to 100 loaded trays of crockery an hour. The plan is to deploy the vehicle at this year's Formula One event, for which Chye Thiam has been providing services for 11 years.

ONE episode from Lim Jo Hann's earliest days with Chye Thiam Maintenance still stays with him today.

Mr Lim joined the firm in 2002, fresh out of National Service, and was assigned as a project executive at Changi Airport. One day, while driving around the airside area, a senior colleague said to him: "Look at all these vehicles."

The vehicles around them - and some 300 workers - were under his charge. That, said the older colleague, was what success looked like.

Mr Lim, 39, is now senior vice-president for operations at Chye Thiam, which has 1,500 staff.

Apart from the Changi Airport project, Mr Lim worked on the start-up of cleaning and maintenance services at the Esplanade, after Chye Thiam clinched the first contract for the then-newly-built performing arts centre.

By 2003, he was overseeing his own projects: starting small with a six-person team for the airport police division, then handling the Chinese Swimming Club.

Back then, there were "a lot of things you had to do yourself" - from payroll to stock deliveries. The firm had just three administrative staff at the time.

Chye Thiam has come far since then, but neither the firm nor Mr Lim has stayed complacent. "What always drives us is having something new," he says.

There were always new projects to spearhead, with Chye Thiam having a knack for securing the first contract for iconic projects - such as Orchard Road's Ion mall and Resorts World Sentosa - upon their completion.

Another example is the Formula One Grand Prix, with this year being the 11th time that Chye Thiam is providing services for the event.

"When F1 first came to Singapore, nobody knew how to do a mega-scale project," Mr Lim recalls. So he flew to Australia to see how the Grand Prix there was handled.

Some journeys with Chye Thiam are less dramatic, but still driven by new learning opportunities.

When Joreen Ong joined in 2005, her reason was simple: "I needed the timing." The 5am to 1pm shift, cleaning aircraft interiors, allowed her to care for her children, who were then in kindergarten and Primary 1.

In 2007, there was a vacancy in the training team, and she thought of giving it a try. But as she recalls: "At the beginning, trying was not so easy."

She had no background in the cleaning industry, and had to read materials and take tests in English despite being Chinese-educated.

As a senior trainer today, the 55-year-old helps others overcome such challenges.

Chye Thiam's constant drive for improvement has made this easier too. Previously, assessors from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency - now Workforce Singapore - would come by to assess their training, putting pressure on the trainees, as well as the trainers.

"They were also shaking, saying 'I don't want to take the test, I'm scared'," Ms Ong says of the elderly trainees under her charge.

Chye Thiam has since become a certified training centre. Without external assessors, trainees feel more at ease, says Ms Ong: "They're more comfortable now."

Brought to you by The Future Economy Council

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