Business of Happiness

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TAN MIAO LIN

OPERATIONS EFFECTIVENESS ANALYST

CONRAD CENTENNIAL SINGAPORE

How long have you been in the hotel industry? About four years, inclusive of internship.

Can you tell us more about your journey? I interned for six months with the Front Office department. Once done, I was considering if I should stay in the hotel industry or go back to F&B. Our Front Office Manager asked me to try working as a Concierge. I did and a couple of months in, the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme was launched and I took part in it. I had the chance to rotate through various departments like the Front Office, gift shop, and finally, to the Executive Lounge. After I graduated from the programme, I decided to go back to being a Concierge. A couple of months later, I joined the Management Trainee program. That took about 1.5 years. While I was doing the training, I was part of the operational effectiveness reviews that were organised by the regional corporate office. So together with the operational effectiveness team that was sent down, I observed the various shifts and positions, tracking how much time it took to complete a certain task. I would then tabulate the reports and conclude what was productive and where the areas of improvement could be. The team was brilliant and talented. They helped me understand how some of the metrics worked and how small inconveniences (such as different doorknobs) can affect the big picture. So when the corporate office opened up an operational analyst position in our hotel, I jumped on it.

Tell us more about the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme. It’s a Government-funded specialist programme for all Singaporeans. It supports you to go to school once a week. The team supports by rostering me for shifts that will enable you to go to class.

How about the Management Trainee programme? Can you tell us more about that? The program is one-and-a-half years long. For the first six months (phase 1) you get to go to different departments – we call it explore. So you’re exploring the different departments, looking at how the different managers function and learning the basics of the role of every single department – from the Executive Lounge to Housekeeping to Engineering. I’ve even been with the Audio Visual Technicians! During the next six months (phase 2), you focus on what you like to do. I picked Front Office. I got to experience the various Front Office departments and eventually, I became a Trip Coordinator where I liaised with different guests, tour guides and travel managers. During the last six months (phase 3), we worked in a different property to expand our exposure. I was at the Hilton Singapore at the Front Office department.

Can you tell us more what you do on a daily basis? We measure the level of productivity of team members and also the labour management system. I look at numbers and data, and once in a while, I carry out observations where I’d follow a team member around the hotel. I would start work whenever they start work and end whenever they end. If they had to work overtime, I would do so as well. And if they don’t have a break, I won’t either. Basically, I would be shadowing their every movement. Once the observation has been made, I would tally the numbers in my observations. I can tell you how many tables have been wiped in this person’s shift and how long it took. Or even napkin folding! In fact, the hotel is looking into removing the whole labour-intensive work of folding napkins by replacing with paper napkins or automate with machines. This is so that we can free up the staff member’s time to do higher-value work.

Would you say your experience in the Management Trainee Programme helped you to be better at your role? Yes, definitely because there are a lot of things you need background knowledge of and with the Earn and Learn Programme and the Management Trainee programme, I was given the opportunity to go around the entire hotel. That gave me a lot of operational knowledge to do my current job as a Data Analyst.

Why do you think it’s important to continue your education while you’re still working? It’s like a hobby for me! Continuing your education while working allows you to gain working experience on top of academic knowledge. When I was still a student, I was already working so it wasn’t an issue for me. You learn to balance out a lot of things in life. It could be a little bit tough juggling both school and work, but I had the full support of my team so that made it easier.

How did the hotel support you? When I was working in shifts, my team planned the roster such that I would get a day off to rest or prepare anything I need for school.

Besides school, how did you learn to make yourself better at the job? I’ve got a number of mentors, from Concierge team members to department heads. Seeing how they manage their teams is eye opening. You can read 101 books on leadership but you cannot really learn it without first-hand experience. Being able to learn at your workplace and finding a mentor is really important to me.

What has been the most memorable experience in your career so far? I enjoy having guests that I really get along with and who come back to look for me. While I was at the Concierge desk, I had a few guests that I got to know who were regulars. They would wait for me to finish attending to other guests just to say hi. That’s really heart-warming and it gives me a reason to come back to work and work harder even though school was tough.

Do you have any goals that you hope to achieve in your time in the industry? Eventually, I hope to be a lecturer in a hospitality school – to give back and also to groom new generations of hospitality students.

Currently, the next step is to gain experience and learn as much as I can about the various roles and functions in a hotel in order to better equip myself. Right now, I do reach out to my fellow juniors from the Earn and Learn Programme to see how they are doing and if they are facing any challenges. Sometimes, they even seek my advice since juggling work, school and personal life can be quite tough for some. I also take part in career talks and management trainee recruitment sharing sessions to meet with students new to the industry and share my experience with them.

What advice would you give someone who’s interested to join the industry? You need to have grit. It’s going to be tough especially when you’re just starting out. But it becomes easier and more fulfilling when you press on.