06 June 17 The Straits Times by CAMILLIA DEBORAH DASS
It looks compact and mobile, but that cart that hotel housekeepers push along carpeted corridors can weigh more than 100kg.
The strenuous work - and its ill effects on one's physical health - is making it difficult for the hotel industry to keep people in this job, say industry players.
But a new project by a team of lecturers from Republic Polytechnic, supported by the Ministry of Health (MOH), may help to ease the problem by early next year.
The idea is simple: to make a motorised housekeeping cart, not from scratch, but by taking an existing cart and mounting it on a platform that can be manoeuvred by the housekeeper electronically. With a push of a few buttons, users can set the cart in motion, stop it or make it go around corners.
" We wanted to make sure that it was as cost-effective as possible for hotels so that they would see the value of buying it and using it," said team member Michael Loke, 39, a lecturer at the School of Sports, Health and Leisure.
The team is now in the process of building a prototype after being awarded part of a $3 million fund from the MOH under its Ageless Workplaces Innovation Grant.
I know the struggles of housekeepers because we see the work they do. I hold that very close to my heart and I want to do something to make it easier.
MR NG YU LIK, who spent 25 years in the hotel industry before becoming a lecturer.
This grant, which was launched last year, is aimed at supporting innovative ideas and research related to ageing that can be translated into practical solutions.
Two other teams were awarded the grant this year - Nanyang Technological University and Singapore General Hospital - to develop an assistive shelver to help older workers in supermarkets and a robotic arm that could assist ultrasound radiographers respectively.
Mr Patrick Fiat, general manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts, said that it is challenging to attract talent to the hospitality industry as hotels operate round the clock.
"Housekeeping is one of the departments that has been under pressure because of the current labour crunch situation," he said.
A spokesman for Sheraton Towers said: "Motorised carts could possibly make work easier for elderly housekeepers while increasing their efficiency."
The idea was inspired by Mr Ng Yu Lik, who spent 25 years in the hotel industry before becoming a lecturer.
"I know the struggles of housekeepers because we see the work they do. I hold that very close to my heart and I want to do something to make it easier," said Mr Ng, who now teaches at Republic Polytechnic's School of Hospitality.
He and his team hope to help older workers and encourage them to stay in the hotel industry for a longer time, as well as to persuade more people to join it. They are currently observing how housekeepers work and getting their feedback, and hope to launch their invention by early next year.
Housekeeper Chee Ai Chin, 60, said that the invention will help make her work easier.
"The motorised trolleys would take off some of the workload," said Madam Chee, a housekeeper who has worked at Royal Plaza on Scotts for 43 years.
But she was sceptical as to whether these motorised carts would encourage her to stay in her job for a longer period.
"It would not be the key factor that determines my length of service. What is more important would be to be able to keep up with my active lifestyle, be happy and have fun at work," she said.