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NEA To Introduce A New Scheme To Facilitate The Continued Practice Of Hawker Trade, And Transmission Of Culinary Skills From Retiring Veteran Hawkers To Aspiring Successors

24 Nov 2020

The Hawkers Succession Scheme aims to facilitate retiring veteran hawkers passing down their stalls, culinary skills, practices and recipes to aspiring successors. This new scheme addresses one of the key challenges identified by the Workgroup on Sustaining the Hawker Trade, which is the transmission of culinary and business skills from one generation to the next.

Singapore, 24 November 2020 – Formed to explore ideas to attract and support new entrants into the trade and look at issues facing the hawker trade, the Workgroup on Sustaining the Hawker Trade has officially submitted their recommendations to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) for consideration. MSE and the National Environment Agency (NEA) will review the report by the Workgroup and work closely with stakeholders of the hawker community to achieve the desired outcomes mapped out by the Workgroup.

Five main challenges facing the hawker trade and recommendations to address them

2       Co-chaired by Mr Edward Chia, Managing Director of Timbre Group and Mr Lim Gek Meng, Chairman of the Chinatown Complex Hawkers’ Association and former Vice-President of The Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore, the 19-member Workgroup on Sustaining the Hawker Trade was formed in April 2019 to offer ideas to help sustain the hawker trade and work towards recommendations to safeguard the Hawker Culture in Singapore. More than half of its members are hawkers, while the rest are hawker food advocates and relevant stakeholders from the academia, and the public and private sectors.

3      The review carried out by the Workgroup had identified five main challenges facing the hawker trade: namely, 1) negative public perception towards the hawker trade, where a career as a hawker is not well-regarded by the public as a profession; 2) difficulties faced by new entrants in terms of sustaining their hawker businesses; 3) challenges faced by veteran hawkers in terms of finding successors to take over their hawker business; 4) increasing business challenges and competition from other entities in the food and beverage industry; and 5) limited support for stall-level productivity equipment.

4      To address these challenges, the Workgroup made recommendations to 1) refresh the narrative on hawker trade to attract new entrants; 2) support new and existing hawkers with relevant training programmes; 3) alleviate manpower challenges through productivity initiatives and policy review; 4) celebrate hawker culture and honour hawker legends; and 5) foster a strong hawkers network and facilitate peer-learning among hawkers (refer to for the complete report submitted by the Workgroup on Sustaining the Hawker Trade). Co-chairman of the Workgroup, Mr Edward Chia said, “The Workgroup has completed its work and has submitted our final report to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment for consideration. With the median age of hawkers at 59 years old, it is important to look at ways to grow the pool of younger hawkers and support new entrants to the trade. If successfully implemented, these recommendations would enable new entrants to thrive, as well as facilitate the transmission of culinary practices.” 

5      Fellow Co-chairman of the Workgroup, Mr Lim Gek Meng added, “We thank all members of the Workgroup for their contributions to help strengthen existing measures to safeguard the hawker trade. As the Government carries on in its efforts to attract new entrants to the hawker trade, it is also important to continue to support existing hawkers to stay relevant with the use of technology, automation and digital services, as well as work towards getting more Singaporeans to be appreciative of our hawkers and do their part to safeguard the Hawker Culture in Singapore.” 

Early responses to the proposed recommendations and progress made in sustaining the hawker trade

6       Responding to the Workgroup’s recommendations, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, Dr Amy Khor said, “In light of the recommendation from the UNESCO Evaluation Body for Hawker Culture in Singapore to be inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it is timely that the Workgroup has released its report on how the hawker community and relevant stakeholders can collaborate with the Government to co-create solutions to tackle key challenges faced in the hawker trade to sustain the hawker trade and hawker culture and keep it vibrant and thriving. The Workgroup’s report is comprehensive and maps out feasible recommendations. NEA has thus wasted no time to implement some of them such as the Hawker Development Programme and the enhancement of the Hawker Productivity Grant. On behalf of the Government, I thank the Workgroup for their suggestions to move the hawker trade forward in the best interests of hawkers and all Singaporeans who love our hawker food and hawker culture. We will review the report by the Workgroup and implement other ideas offered in the report in due course.”

7        In line with the Workgroup’s key idea to facilitate the continued practice of hawker trade, and transmission of culinary skills from retiring veteran hawkers to aspiring successors, NEA will roll out a new scheme – the Hawkers Succession Scheme (HSS).  Under the HSS, veteran stallholders who would like to retire but are unable to find suitable successors will receive facilitation and support to pass their hawker trade on to aspiring successors. NEA, advised by an independent selection panel, will pair the aspiring successors to the retiring veteran hawkers, who can then transmit their culinary skills, recipes and practices, as well as offer mentorship on the management of their hawker business, to the next generation of hawkers. As the veteran hawkers would have already decided to retire, NEA will facilitate the continuation of their hawker trade by relaxing the rules to allow eligible non-subsidised veteran stallholders to assign their stalls to aspiring successors who are not family members or relatives (this is currently allowed only for subsidised stallholders). The scheme will be piloted in the first quarter of 2021 and more details of the scheme will be made available at the end of the year.

8        The HSS complements existing programmes to encourage new entrants into the hawker trade, which have been progressively rolled out since 2013. These include the Incubation Stall Programme and Hawkers’ Development Programme which offer a variety of assistance and support schemes, such as subsidised training fees, paid apprenticeship and allocation of subsidised incubation stalls to new aspiring hawkers (see Annex for Summary of the Various Programmes to Sustain the Hawker Trade). These programmes do not pair aspiring hawkers with veteran hawkers for the purpose of succession in taking over the culinary recipes and hawker stalls, and this gap will be filled by the HSS. Collectively, these efforts have helped to generate positive awareness of, and attract new entrants to, the hawker trade. The initial results have been promising, with the median age of the new entrants at 46 years old, significantly lower than the national median age of hawkers of 59 years.

9       To further strengthen the camaraderie and networking within the hawker community, and celebrate significant achievements in the hawker trade, NEA will continue to support The Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore (FMAS) in organising the Hawkers’ Seminar. Started in 2019, the Hawkers’ Seminar is a collective effort by the hawker community to create a platform that hawkers in Singapore can come together to exchange ideas and facilitate sharing of best practices among the community, and collectively shape the development of the hawker trade in Singapore.

10       NEA has also acted on the Workgroup’s recommendation to enhance the Hawkers’ Productivity Grant to include other tools beyond kitchen automation, as well as extend the funding period of the grant. From 9 March 2020, the list of supportable items under the grant has expanded from 19 types to 24 types, and now includes equipment which facilitates automation in service innovation, namely, queue management systems and wireless food collection paging solutions. Also, to give both market and cooked food stallholders a fair amount of time to consider productivity solutions, the funding period of the grant was extended to 31 March 2023. To date, more than $1.7 million has been disbursed to 593 market and cooked food stallholders.

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Summary of the Various Programmes to Sustain the Hawker Trade

Since 2013, NEA has been providing training opportunities and pathways for aspiring hawkers, such as our Incubation Stall Programme, which offers subsidised rentals lasting 15 months for aspiring hawkers to reduce their business cost and risk. At the new hawker centres operated by the Socially-Conscious Enterprises, incubation programmes are typically put in place to facilitate and support new entrants. 29 new hawkers have joined the trade after participating in these programmes. 

Another key recommendation of the Workgroup, the Hawkers’ Development Programme, has been jointly developed by NEA and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and launched in January 2020. The programme comprises training, apprenticeship and incubation components and aims to ease new hawkers’ entry into the trade, as well as provide them with opportunities to learn the ropes of the trade from experienced hawkers. To date, close to 150 participants have completed the training stage, of which, 50 have moved on to the apprenticeship stage. Among them, 35 participants who have completed their apprenticeship are now progressively moving on to the final incubation stage of the programme.

Outside of the above programmes, barriers to entry for stallholders have been kept low – there is no minimum entry qualification, and aspiring hawkers can secure a stall at monthly tender exercises run by NEA, with no minimum bid. Collectively, these efforts have helped to generate positive awareness of, and attract new entrants to, the hawker trade. The initial results have been promising, with the median age of the new entrants at 46 years old, significantly lower than the national median age of hawkers of 59 years.