BreadTalk – A global enterprise with a uniquely Singaporean blueprint
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BreadTalk – A global enterprise with a uniquely Singaporean blueprint

Head chef monitoring his employee

Taiwanese Eric Lin, 32, head chef at BreadTalk Group's research and design unit, watches on as his Singaporean apprentice tries his hand at piping a cake.

Putting Singapore on the world map

Famous for its freshly ground and brewed Nanyang kopi, signature toasts, and Asian delights, Toast Box is a quintessentially Singaporean food institution.

But walk into an outlet and it is not uncommon to see foreigners manning the store, from preparing coffee to handling the cash register.

If you think this is evidence that the BreadTalk Group, which owns and operates the Toast Box brand, prefers foreigners over locals, think again.

The majority of the company’s employees are Singaporeans and PRs, including its senior management, says Chan Wing Git, who oversees human resources at BreadTalk.

The company, which has more than 1,000 outlets spread across 17 countries in Asia and the Middle East, places strong emphasis on having a strong core of Singaporeans for a simple reason. It is a Singaporean company, selling local cuisine in Singapore and beyond.

“Fundamentally, it is about bringing the Singaporean identity and cuisine over to foreign shores. So regardless of how wide we might expand our operations, having a strong Singaporean core helps us realise our potential and ensure our brand’s longevity,” he adds.

It is this willingness to grow as a brand and put Singaporeans at the core of its operations that has made BreadTalk Group a recognised Human Capital Partner as part of the Human Capital Partnership programme (HCP).

Launched in 2016 by the Minister for Manpower Mr Lim Swee Say, the HCP programme recognise employers in Singapore who are committed to growing their businesses and staying competitive by having progressive employment practices while developing their human capital.

Made in Singapore, but recognised around the world

Breadtalk HQ building
BreadTalk Group is recognised as a Human Capital Partner under the Human Capital Partnership programme

Speaking to at the Group’s international headquarters at Tai Seng, Chan said that putting Singaporeans first is not just about being patriotic. It also makes business sense.

Singaporean workers, apart from their high levels of education, have strong values that companies care about: Good work ethics, diligence and a willingness to learn.

But Chan recognises that talent flows everywhere. The goal, he says, is to ensure a healthy level of diversity in the company’s workforce, ensuring that both foreigners and Singapore residents work together to complement each other.

For example, in BreadTalk’s restaurant outlets, leading head chefs from abroad are paired with local sous chefs for a period of time under a structured mentoring programme. Apart from imparting valuable culinary skills, the foreign chef is able to guide the local understudy and in the process, refine their skills.

When the local chefs successfully complete the training, they may progress to helm a kitchen and lead the culinary operations at a restaurant.

At the company’s research and design (R&D) unit, which creates new dishes for its bakeries and restaurants, its staff used to be a mix of locals and foreigners. These days, the focus is on mentorship where overseas experts help groom local staff.

This way, local staff get to learn from world acclaimed talent while BreadTalk continues to ensure that it has a strong Singaporean workforce.

“In order to become an employer of choice, we constantly need to innovate and put ourselves on the global stage. This means hiring indigenous talent when we go to a foreign market because this helps us understand the ground better and allows us to position ourselves accordingly,” he says.

Having an open and diverse workforce benefits Singaporeans in multiple ways.

For one thing, it is because BreadTalk can tap on foreigners for the less sought-after jobs that allows them to attract Singaporeans for more senior positions. He firmly believes that job creation begets job creation.

“Between 70 and 80 per cent of all senior positions at the corporate level as well as our outlets are held by Singaporeans and PRs, who form the talent pool to add value to the strategic planning, corporate support and end support processes” he says.

As he puts it, when it comes to balancing the foreign and local workforce on the payroll, it is a matter of “give and take.”

“These are the jobs that won’t be available if we didn't have the front line staffed by foreigners so it really works both ways,” he says.

Grooming the next generation of leaders

Breadtalk head of HR
BreadTalk Group’s Head of Human Resources Chan Wing Git

The Group is also acutely aware of the need for continuous training and skills development, given the limited manpower resources in Singapore.  

In a speech during the debate on Manpower Ministry’s budget in March (2018), Minister Lim said future growth will be dependent on how successful Singapore is with its manpower-lean economy.

This is the hard path of increasing productivity and upgrading Singapore’s workers. But he also added that this is the only way Singapore will succeed in the long run.

“Even though the path is not easy, as long as the tripartite partners work together to help our people, we will still be able to be at the forefront, as we will be able to explore new paths instead of a dead end,” he noted.

Chan agrees with this assessment. In fact, he believes the only way to stay ahead of the curve is to inculcate a culture of learning within BreadTalk Group.

The importance of keeping one’s skills relevant through continual skills upgrading is a mind-set that is constantly encouraged at the Group.

“We have a strong culture of learning across all levels to encourage self-growth and development. We hope employees will carry this habit of learning with them not just during their time in BreadTalk Group but throughout the rest of their lives as well,” he says.

As an accredited Workforce Skills Qualification training provider, BreadTalk Group organises regular training and workshops for employees across all levels.

Employees are encouraged to take ownership of their own progression and development with the Group playing a facilitative role.

As part of their career development, local Singaporeans are offered stints overseas where they get to learn the many facets of operating a business in a foreign climate.

Working and managing a business abroad provides Singaporeans with invaluable experiences that translate into better industry know-how and acumen in the long run. And doing that, in turn, enriches the local workforce.

“Working abroad is about finding out what works and what doesn’t. It takes hard work and perseverance so this allows Singaporeans to show their true mettle and resolve and when they come back, they have a global view which is a vital trait for the brand to grow,” he says.

BreadTalk Group also provides training sponsorship for external courses and workshops where a percentage or the full sum of the course is covered. It also introduced e-learning so that employees can enrol themselves in courses and complete them at their own time and pace.

The Group’s philosophy towards its employees is a relatively straightforward one: Reciprocity.

“When you bring on board an employee, you have a responsibility to groom and to develop him,” he says.

“An employee who feels taken care of will be more productive and stay longer in the company.”

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