Steven Kuan, Founder of O’Brew Culture, is a firm believer in the value of training and upskilling his employees
Located in the middle of the second floor of the bustling Tampines One mall is an unassuming coffee shop called O’Brew Culture. At this little nook, the coffee ordering experience can be a little different from the typical.
Upon walking up to the counter, you’ll be greeted by a young man who, rather than speaking, will point you instead to a sign on the desk – “I’m a deaf person,” it writes, followed by instructions on how to order – through a series of pointing and checkboxes for special requests. On the occasion when further communication is necessary, a whiteboard is also available for customers to write down their requests.
The young man, Parker, is O’Brew Culture’s only full-time staff besides its founder, Steven Kuan. Parker has been working with Steven for over two years now, and has grown his capabilities and skillsets by leaps and bounds in that time.
Parker is O’Brew Culture’s only full-time employee and has undergone extensive training to learn the intricacies of cafe management (Source: O’Brew Culture)
Since first joining O’Brew Culture as a barista, Parker has picked up the delicate art of coffee roasting and is also responsible for training and managing the part-timers. But all of this wouldn’t have been possible if Steven didn’t first decide to take a chance in hiring Parker as his first employee, and dedicate the time and effort needed afterwards to upskill him.
The skill in upskilling
“I make the time and effort to share, so that I impart knowledge as if I’m preparing him for the day when he opens his own cafe,” he explains. Since Parker was hearing-impaired, much of the training had to take place via written means. In the beginning, many of these conversations took place over WhatsApp. But as conversations grew more complex and the team grew, Steven eventually turned to using Slack, creating different channels for the different topics on leadership, training, budgeting, and so on.
In these conversations, Steven would cover the intricacies of what it took to run a food and beverage business. This included details like revenue management and calculating profit margins of each product they’re selling, and how to consider factors beyond just cost, but also the efficiency of food preparation.
“Parker has never had the opportunity to learn to supervise or manage, and to see the running of a cafe from a different perspective,” Steven says. This meant that Steven had to also impart basic soft skills like communication to Parker.
To do so, he would get Parker to draft messages to convey information to the rest of the staff. Steven would then review the messages, and edit them as necessary, explaining to Parker why certain changes are made to improve clarity.
Steven took on the role as the on-the-job trainer guiding Parker in refining some of the technical skill-sets he acquired from his training courses (Source: O’Brew Culture)
Besides management, Parker also expressed an interest in the finer art of roasting his own coffee beans. Since this was a skillset that Steven was not able to pass down, he had to instead find external online training courses for Parker to learn from. He even went the extra mile to subtitle the videos, and took the course alongside him so that he could help address any questions Parker may have.
At the end of the online course, he also sought out a mentor in Singapore, who could guide Parker through the practical knowledge and try his hands at the actual coffee roasting process. To ensure Parker would have time to study and train, Steven also brought in more part-timers to relieve Parker at his day job.
All of this, simply because Steven was a firm believer in the value of developing others.
The importance of training
“As an employer, you must have the right attitude and see the value of [training and upskilling],” he says. There needs to first be a willingness to invest in training and development, or all of these efforts would be “chor” - a colloquial way to express when something is tiresome or troublesome.
To Steven, the value of training is clear – by upskilling his staff, this frees up his time to be less hands-on with day-to-day business operations, and allow him to focus on higher-value tasks as a founder like business expansion or new business ventures.
Upskilling benefits the business, Steven emphasises. “The more trained a person is, the better they will be able to do their job. They will have better customer service, make better coffee, things like that.” At the same time, employees also tend to be more motivated and do better at their job when time is taken to develop them, he adds.
On the contrary, not spending time training staff members could result in more trouble for business owners should they encounter problems and end up mishandling the situation, Steven says.
Steven is already reaping the rewards of the leap he took on disability hiring, and the time and effort he has invested into training Parker. With Parker confidently helming business operations at the Tampines One outlet, Steven was able to embark on his own digital upskilling. He has since completed a WSQ Essentials of Franchise Management course, and equipped himself with digital marketing skills to advertise his cafe through social media.
Now, Steven is himself armed with the skills he will need to tackle the new frontiers he hopes to explore: expanding O’Brew Culture, and spreading the fragrance of his signature dalgona coffee to other locations in Singapore.
Keen to invest in training and upskilling your own employees? Check out the Enterprise Portal for Jobs and Skills (EPJS), a one-stop portal for enterprises to find jobs and skills information, and access digital services related to workforce training and grant applications.
This article is accurate as at 9 Nov 2022