Migrant and foreign workers in the construction industry in Singapore: How Noise Plaster is empowering their employees
Out of the norm
COVID-19 has hit Singapore hard in a myriad of ways — most prominently, a plunge in economy and the whole nation subjected to a technical recession after a GDP fall of 12.6%. But a more severe underlying issue is still looming — which was brought to light because of the pandemic — Singapore's social fabric and prejudices, specifically the treatment of our migrant workers. With community cases largely contained and on the low, majority of our COVID-19 cases are related and are still emerging from workers staying in dormitories.
In a country where meritocracy is valued, and equality is preached from a very young age, this very statistic could propagate prejudices and stigmas on the very people that helped us build this nation — migrant workers.
In an attempt to change all that in an unorthadox route is Noise Plaster, the brainchild of Nicholas Quek. Identifying a gap in the industry for effective and quality soundproofing solutions, as well as the lack of professional training for workers in this particular industry, Quek enlists the help of foreign workers by training them to provide their services.
Stepping out of yet another norm to tackle the migrant worker and construction stigma, Noise Plaster houses their foreign employees in condomiums. They are also paid competitive salaries, trained and upskilled frequently, and given performance appraisals. "We treat our foreign workers with professional respect and courtesy. In fact, any member of society, regardless of them being foreign or local," Nicholas remarks. "We want to extract our workers from the daily immersion in the existing construction culture. The immersion in our local environment and society will encourage them to be more attuned and sensitive to our living culture and is part of the foundation of our greater culture vision."
What does Noise Plaster do? What more can it bring to the soundproofing industry?
Noise Plaster installs windows and doors of the highest quality that blocks noise that plagues an ever increasing number of residents in Singapore. Our operation is set up to deliver products within short lead times, and without minimum order quantities. We are the authorized fabricator of AluK from Italy, which is among the leading aluminium window, door and curtain wall technology companies in the world. Also, the only supplier in Singapore of such high quality systems that produce locally, and carry ready stocks of all retail product lines for immediate fabrication upon order.
We are all aware of the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the construction industry and migrant workers in Singapore, especially given the current circumstances. What is your company doing to tackle these directly?
The stereotypes and stigmas are real and we must understand that there is a real cultural association that the best talent in society goes to "more attractive" industries.
Our solution is simple, we don't compromise on implementing international standard business practices at the core, from the top down. We believe we will create a culture where through professionalism, efficiency, and use of technology, we can build a company that is able to attract, train, and retain talent that will drive culture transformation in our company and catalyse a greater transformation in the industry.
Tell us more about the six migrant workers that are working at Noise Plaster. Could you also elaborate on the skills and training that you are providing them with?
We have two leaders who have been with us since we started fabricating with AluK — about two years now. We have a skilled worker who has been with us for about a year, and we have three trainees.
All work done is completely process-based and modular, with work instructions in various stages of development for every stage of the work. We evaluate the skills our trainees enter the company with (from their previous employment), and with a keen understanding on the difficulty of various work processes, as well as our evaluation on the learning capability and potential of the trainees, we train them and evaluate their learning progress on a modular basis.
All workers are expected to learn all aspects of work done in the whole company. Their potential and capability will decide their long-term deployment, but they should at least have a foundational experience of all the work their co-workers are doing.
Are there plans to hire more migrant workers, since the plan is to influence a wider sector?
We are working on our process manuals and documents, training our leaders to become effective trainers, and refining our training doctrines and methods. We certainly plan to hire as much as we can grow our sales, but we will only expand as quickly as we are confident that we are able to give the best training to any new trainee that steps through our doors.
You are currently a very young company with a challenging mission to change stigmas. How do you plan to expand your reach within a Singaporean community that is deeply entrenched in their own beliefs?
We do not believe that we have to make a dedicated effort for this, but should we succeed in our core goals, people will be able to see the results and believe for themselves.
Learn more about Noise Plaster and their efforts to combat social norms, here.