Navigating Manpower Challenges with Koi
Words by Hoe Ziqian

Ever since Covid-19 disrupted the operational playbook of every food and beverage operator, the traditional challenges of this industry have become more prominent than ever. Many operators who were considered mainstays in their own segment of the industry have had to reinvent themselves to remain relevant. And one of them is none other than Koi, the brand synonymous with Singaporeans for delicious and affordable bubble tea.

Since its humble beginnings in 2007, Koi has weathered every storm in its way and has emerged stronger than ever in the wake of Covid-19. It has a strong presence in Singapore and across various parts of Southeast Asia and has seen its global footprint extend to the likes of Japan, Xiamen, Macau and even the United Sates.

Koi's hand-shaken beverages (image courtesy of Koi)

Ever since the grand opening of its first outlet in Singapore in 2007, Koi has had to withstand heavy competition to stay ahead of the game in the local bubble tea market. 

Through extensive research and development, Koi has always had the edge in terms of its product, but the company has seen its fair share of headwinds when it comes to human resources. Hong Yiping, who has served as a HR business partner in Koi for the past 6 years, shares that the expansion opportunities can often come in at the last minute. As a result, the HR team normally has its work cut down trying to pull together an operational team from a limited pool of candidates. The only way that this pool can be widen, is if the company is open to the possibility of hiring from different industries.

That is exactly the reason why Koi has been actively partnering with NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) on the Career Conversion Program (CCP). Previously known as the Place-and-Train Program or Professional Conversion Program, the CCP is a conversion program targeted at mid-career switchers. It provides the necessary funding for these candidates to undergo skills conversion and move into new occupations or sectors that have good prospects and opportunities for progression. These trainees undergo structured on-the-job training programs to facilitate a seamless transition into their new role.

Hong explains that the CCP scheme helps Koi to partially defray the cost of hiring without compromising the quality of training available to a new hire. While other companies are compelled to cut corners when it comes to the employee onboarding process, Koi deems this as an essential element in helping new hires adapt to and understand the industry demands and challenges, as well as the company vision and culture, within a reasonable timeframe.

The partnership and support from e2i has been instrumental in helping companies like Koi to address their manpower shortages and to tackle skills gaps among job seekers interested in taking on the available jobs. In many instances, e2i has even connected companies interested to take part in CCP with the relevant agencies and training organisations, saving these companies precious time and resources with its rich network of partners.

One of the beneficiaries of the CCP in Koi is Charmine Chee Hui Ting. Charmine joined Koi as a HR Executive from the process industry in 2021. She was curious about the food and beverage industry and wanted to challenge herself in an unfamiliar setting to gain more exposure.

Charmine Chee Hui Ting joined Koi as a HR Executive from the process industry. (Image courtesy of Koi)

Charmine cites communication and teamwork as her key motivators in a job, and these were the strengths that Koi offered in abundance when she was going through her onboarding program. Her manager was with her every step of the way throughout the program and was able to provide the necessary guidance and advice to help her ease into her new role.

Other than her core HR training, Charmine was able to gain invaluable knowledge through a Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) course, where she learned how to manage and safeguard internal documents to ensure sensitive information is not easily compromised. As a HR practitioner, whose day-to-day rigour involves the handling of countless sensitive employee documents, the knowledge and skills learnt from this PDPA course are highly relevant and beneficial to Charmine.

Charmine’s colleague in the HR team is HR Executive Lee Chia Hsuan. Previously from the service industry, Lee worked as a Student Affair Officer in a Chinese tuition centre. Lee shared, “I have always had a passion and interest in HR and was keen to gain more insights as a HR Executive.”

HR Executive Lee Chia Hsuan joined Koi to pursue her passion in HR. (Image courtesy of Koi)

Lee revealed that her family and friends fully supported her decision to put her passion and interest into good use. Fast forward 13 months into her new role, Lee could not have been happier with her choice.

As part of her on-the-job training, Lee took a course on the local Employment Act, as well as an advanced course on Microsoft Excel. The Employment Act course has helped her to understand the role of HR better and she now finds herself more proficient in her work due to her improved competence in Microsoft Excel.

Recounting her early days in Koi, Lee fondly remembers the experience of providing mentorship to the HR interns. She was also in charge of the COVID response efforts within the company and was instrumental in guiding her fellow colleagues on how to properly use the ART test kits and submit the test results to the Health Promotion Board (HPB) regulators.

Area Manager Simon Tan Ming Hui was no stranger to the food and beverage industry but took up the challenge in Koi to explore a different role. (Image courtesy of Koi)

Simon Tan Ming Hui hailed from the food production industry, so he is certainly no stranger to the food and beverage space. However, Simon wanted to leverage on his existing skillsets and test himself in a different setting, which was why he took on the challenge as an Area Manager in Koi.

Citing job security, sense of achievement and on-the-job happiness as the key factors that he looks out for in a job, Simon was able to experience each of these factors in his new role. As an established brand name in the bubble tea industry, Koi provided the stability and confidence to Simon, while the satisfaction of managing a number of outlets gave him the drive to push on to greater heights.

After being put through the paces on the operations of the outlets, Simon realised that Retail F&B is not as easy as it seems. Every minute detail, from the daily staffing to the actual tea making and even the customer interaction has its own nuances.

Simon’s exposure to the CCP program made him realise that the world out there is too big and there is plenty more for him to explore as a person and as an employee. He adds, “I always believe in learning from everyone in the course of my career and my life. The CCP program further enhances my belief.”

Simon regards Koi Chief Operating Officer Daniel Huang as his mentor, “Daniel’s vast experience has opened up new horizons for me when it comes to outlet management.”

While his interaction with Daniel might be limited, but whenever they have a chance to speak, Simon has always been able to draw new inspirations and derive innovative ways to better cope with the demands of his role.

The inspirational stories of Charmine, Lee and Simon are just the initial chapters in the partnership between e2i and Koi. If you are one of the many companies out there fighting the manpower challenge alone, it is reassuring to know that you can count on e2i as a trusted partner in this journey.


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