Wiping out stereotypes: How a 27-year-old ventured into the cleaning industry with no prior experience
Today, Tan Jin Hui is actively challenging stereotypes about his job.
The unmistakable whirring of a vacuum and sounds of incessant scrubbing on a bathroom floor tile fills up the atmosphere. Stained glass surfaces are spritzed with chemicals from spray bottles and wiped spotless with a rag.
Stationed behind each tool is Tan Jin Hui and his team at EasyCleanSG, a professional cleaning company licensed by the National Environment Agency (NEA).
As an operations manager, Jin Hui ensures that every member of the cleaning crew is equipped with knowledge about the company’s services by providing them with in-house training and sending them for external courses.
However, the 27-year-old was initially never quite acquainted with the world of cleaning.
He started out as an Electrical Engineering student, pursuing a Higher NITEC certification in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Thereafter, he attended Singapore Polytechnic for a two-year diploma course in Electrical Electronic Engineering.
Upon completion of his National Service, Jin Hui’s first glimpse into the workforce saw him as a coordinator in the construction sector. Finding it difficult to cope with the stress that came with the job, he decided to quit not long after he signed on.
As fate would have it, an opportunity arose in the midst of his resignation. His current business partner, Joel, had approached him to venture into the cleaning industry. Despite having little prior knowledge about the profession, he agreed.
“We started by selling off some cleaning supplies and products, because we still had other full-time jobs. For myself, I actually enrolled into another electrical company where we supplied high-voltage electrical equipment to Singapore PowerGrid,” said Jin Hui.
“I stayed there for around two years, before I left and started doing this full-time,” he added.
Today, EasyCleanSG serves as a “one-stop service provider” for customers. Services such as painting, air conditioning, marble polishing and disinfection for residential and commercial areas are just some of the services provided.
A usual work day begins with an on-site briefing that is conducted with a potential client to address specific areas of concern.
Once the team and the client have mutually agreed on the tasks to be completed in the space, the appointed service leader will assign individual tasks to each member.
For the cleaning procedures, the crew utilises multiple techniques. One of which is the High-Low method – where the top area of the space is cleared first for dust to descend to the ground. Dirt and other debris will then be swept away when works begin for the bottom half of the space.
Alternatively, the team would start cleaning from the room located furthest away from the entrance and work their way out. This ensures that their efforts are fully optimised within the stipulated time.
However, coming up with this extensive list of cleaning techniques was no easy feat. Rather, it is still a work in progress. Till today, Jin Hui and his team continue to sharpen their abilities by sending each other short videos of cleaning hacks from various social media platforms.
Apart from this, they also challenge their problem-solving skills by “throwing themselves into difficult situations” to think of effective cleaning solutions in real time.
Though he has now gained more knowledge and refined his skills, starting out was challenging due to Jin Hui’s lack of expertise in the profession.
He even admits to the initial reservations he had towards the occupation – that it was “a low-wage, dirty kind of job meant for the older generations”.
Ironically, he was then subjected to stereotypes when he began his career as a cleaner. Because of his age, Jin Hui was deemed as inexperienced and caused potential clients to be doubtful over the quality of his team’s cleaning services.
The EasyCleanSG team would then have to win over these clients with their attention to detail and thoroughness in cleaning.
Concerns about his knowledge of the job were raised not only by clients, but among Jin Hui’s family as well. Before he had fully committed to cleaning as a career, his family members were worried about uncertainties surrounding the job scope, wage and working hours.
His insistence on pursuing his new career path was something that his family eventually had to come to terms with, regardless of their concerns.
Another challenge that comes with the job is the futile efforts to source for more manpower.
Because of the strenuous physical labour required for the job, many are put off from the idea of working in the cleaning industry.
Bending over backwards and scrubbing away for hours is the bare minimum required for this profession. According to Jin Hui, the average four-room flat is completed by his team in four to five hours. For places with extreme conditions, it may go up to nine hours.
“(The fact that) our job is very labour-intensive, together with the stigma of the public’s viewpoint that it’s a dirty job – it’s very, very hard for us to find additional manpower,” he laments.
Like any other job, the financial aspect is arguably one of the most important considerations when selecting a career to pursue. However, this was not a priority of Jin Hui’s.
Although his current income is not affected by the number of jobs he accepts, it is still substantially less than what he would be earning had he continued in engineering.
“We are still trying to maintain (our services) at a bearable cost that customers are willing to pay. As such, we are still trying to fight as much as possible to have an increase (in salary),” said Jin Hui.
Despite the money woes, witnessing a satisfied customer’s reaction to EasyCleanSG’s work serves as motivation for Jin Hui to persevere through his job.
Receiving the Environmental Services Star Award last year in December was a testament to his efforts. He shares that he feels recognised for his contributions to the industry.
The award is presented by NEA to those who have demonstrated exceptional service excellence, good leadership, a proactive attitude to upskilling themselves and made outstanding contributions to environmental sustainability in their profession.
One of his goals for the future of the cleaning industry is to encourage youths to join his profession. Along with defusing negative stereotypes about the industry, Jin Hui hopes to emphasise the importance of cleaners and their value in society.
When asked about advice for youths who are considering a career switch, he mentions three key points – to recognise one’s passions, to be open-minded and to take the first step out by giving the job a try.
As he was initially almost closed off to the idea of working as a cleaner, he explained that it was the idea of making a difference in the industry that convinced him to embark on the new prospect.
“So what really changed my mind were the end results that (Joel) wanted – to bring more youths into this industry and to create an impact, where we hoped that this particular industry would be viewed as a professional profession, just like all other professions.”