‘They thought I was an office spy’: The NUS graduate who’s working as a cleanerJan 29, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership AI
SINGAPORE — Last October, Ms Naomi Wu picked up a toilet brush for the first time in her life.
While her peers get to wear spiffy office attire to work, the National University of Singapore (NUS) graduate spends a typical work day dressed in a cleaner’s outfit — scrubbing toilet tiles, picking up trash or operating a heavy duty cleaning machine.
It was something few could have imagined her doing when she graduated with a major in Project and Facilities Management in 2018.
“Most of my friends were shocked to know what I ended up doing, since I am someone who takes pride in dressing up and looking good,” said Ms Wu, 27.
She is a senior executive with Hong Kong-based cleaning company Sapphire Universe Holdings.
As part of her training, she has to do a year-long training stint with Primech Services and Engineering, one of four companies owned by Sapphire Universe.
JOINING A STIGMATISED INDUSTRY
Not many local university graduates would choose the route that Miss Wu has taken.
Mr Vernon Kwek, the chief executive of Primech, believes that graduates usually associate the cleaning industry with low salaries and “dirty” work.“We understand that these same graduates are usually presented with many more glamorous and comfortable opportunities, and the stigmatised cleaning industry may not be their first choice,” he told TODAY.
Explaining why she joined the company, Ms Wu cited the “learning opportunities” presented to her.
Despite being a graduate, she was told by her boss to “go on site” to get hands-on experience.“He believes in working from the bottom for real learning,” she said. “He told me that once I learn how things are done on the ground, I will be able to manage better when I rise up the ranks in future.”
Ms Wu added: “Cleaners will find it difficult to respect a young person who has not walked in their shoes.” Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/they-thought-i-was-office-spy-nus-graduate-whos-working-cleaner
THE CLEANERS THOUGHT SHE WAS AN OFFICE SPY
Now she is finding out how tough it is to walk in a cleaner’s shoes.
Ms Wu starts her day at 8.30am, battling grubby tiles and clogged toilet bowls in shopping malls and condominiums, or wherever she is rostered to work during her eight-hour shift.
The cleaners, who are mostly elderly, also found it odd that someone like her was doing “dirty” work.“They refused to talk to me initially. They didn’t trust me; they thought I was an office spy,” Ms Wu said.
She also experienced first hand how some people would treat cleaners.
Once, she held open a lift door for a condominium resident who did not even acknowledge her presence.“She made us feel like holding the doors was part of what we were expected to do as cleaners,” she shared.
There was another occasion when she saw a fellow cleaner getting scolded — for doing her job.“A lady marched past the cleaning notice displayed outside a toilet and asked my colleague why she was cleaning the toilet when people wanted to use it,” Ms Wu said.
Still, she believes that the industry needs more people like her, someone who can suggest new ways of doing things or how work processes can be improved.
For Ms Wu, she returns to the office once a week to consolidate her reflections and ideas on how to improve the Standard Operating Procedures for her cleaning colleagues.
The cleaning industry is also moving along with the times, with technology changing the way cleaners work.
Cleaning staff are now sent for courses to learn how to use mobile applications to operate robots or set cleaning programmes, among other things.
With new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things changing the labour-intensive nature of a cleaner’s job, Mr Kwek hopes that the industry will be able to attract a “more diverse pool of talent”.
IMPROVING CLEANERS’ WELFARE
For Ms Wu, her cleaning stint has given her a new perspective on cleaners, whom she described as “the least appreciated people around”.“Some people are very careless about their litter. They think that a cleaner is there to pick (the trash) up anyway,” said Ms Wu, who has also developed a soft spot for cleaners, many of whom are elderly citizens.“Many of them should be in their golden years by now, but they have to work so hard and live from hand-to-mouth,” she said.
She plans to look into improving their welfare by organising more appreciation lunches for the cleaners, for instance.
For someone who hardly does any cleaning at home, Ms Wu has also gained new knowledge she never learned in university.“I can now advise my mother on what chemicals she should use to clean different surfaces,” she said proudly.