In Singapore, the easy accessibility to a rubbish bin makes it highly convenient for us to dispose of our waste. Every unwanted item, from used bottles to leftover food, goes into the bin, which is then bagged up and stuffed into the disposal chute at the end of the day. Most Singaporeans do not know exactly where the waste goes. What we do know is that the chute is a hole in the wall where things disappear into almost like magic — out of sight, out of mind. In fact, waste disposal is so easy that it is not uncommon for people to dispose of their valuable items unwittingly, only to panic afterwards when they discover that it was thrown away by mistake.
This was exactly what happened when Cheryl (not her real name) unknowingly threw away a photo album filled with memories of her family. Along with other disposable items around the house, the album was swallowed by the hole in the wall, presumably never to be seen again. Upon realising her mistake, Cheryl reached out to her Town Council, which relayed her concerns to SembWaste, the waste and recycling management arm of Sembcorp. Daniel Fong, an Operations Executive at SembWaste, was notified of the issue and wanted to help Cheryl out.
However, with Singapore generating 16,110 tonnes of solid waste each day, where do Daniel and his team even begin?
Going the extra mile
Daniel is a man who wears many hats. Before joining SembWaste in 2014 as a Junior Operations Executive, Daniel performed Sales and Customer Relations in the Oil & Gas industry. At one point, he was also a Business Development Executive who managed a team of telemarketers, making sure that calls were made to prospective customers about the latest products and services. His move to the waste management industry, however, came out of a sense of curiosity. “Partly it’s because my friends and colleagues recommended me [to the industry], but I am also someone who wants to explore something new,” Daniel shares.
As a Junior Operations Executive, Daniel’s job was to manage the waste collection process, making sure that workers and trucks turned up at their respective collection locations every day — at least that was the case at the very beginning. Over time, Daniel’s job also brought him in close contact with various Town Councils, officers from the National Environment Agency and even members of the public because, by fate or by choice, he became the fixer of municipal issues within the community.
For example, residents might complain that the recycling bins are too far away, or the locations are not wheelchair accessible. If there was a blockage within the disposal chute, and this happens more often than one would think, Daniel and his team would have to clear it by hook or by crook.
Cheryl’s phone call was but one of the many issues that needed Daniel’s attention. While this was not within his job scope, Daniel made an exception out of goodwill. The trouble was that Cheryl’s call came too late. “At the time, we had already collected waste from various places, and we had sent our collection to the depots to be processed,” Daniel recalls. “So I had to get my guys to go back to the depot and dig through the rubbish bit by bit.”
The team did manage to find the missing photo album in the end, to which Cheryl was indelibly grateful. “I felt very proud, seeing my colleagues and workers work as a team to find this album,” Daniel says. “I felt happy and accomplished because, honestly, not many people would want to go and dig through the rubbish.”
Doing good is a journey
Daniel’s dedication to his work was but one of the many reasons why, over the years, he has received a number of commendations. Daniel has also received an Environmental Services Star Award, which recognises ‘top employees in the ES industry across the three sectors’ in 2019. The person who presented the award to Daniel? President Halimah Yacob herself.
However, for Daniel, self-improvement is a journey and not a destination. Between his hectic work schedule, Daniel finds time to perform Residents’ Committee work, visit schools to educate students about recycling, as well as to upskill himself. He currently holds certificates in business professionalism and business communications, both awarded by the International Business Training Association (USA). He is also the in-house Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications trainer and assessor — with a course developer certificate to show for also. As we said, he’s a man with many hats.
Daniel has also been a member of the NTUC Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union committee since 2019. “What we do as a union is care for our workers’ welfare,” Daniel explains.
“If my workers are facing issues at work, or if they are concerned about their families or finances, they can look for me and I can raise the issue with the union. My duty is to focus on the wellbeing of my colleagues.”
Like father, like son
Despite the certifications already under his belt, Daniel is now looking to take up a part-time Master of Business Administration degree. “The reason why I want to pick up a degree is to enhance my skills and abilities, and with the certifications, it will help me along my career,” he says. SembWaste, too, has been highly supportive of Daniel’s upskilling efforts. “I was exposed to many different aspects of waste management and I went through different training sessions. I feel very grateful for my company. They give me the opportunity to grow and upskill myself.” Indeed, with Daniel’s strong interest to upskill and learn more, he is fortunate to have joined a progressive company like Sembcorp that has groomed him through valuable opportunities.
Daniel’s enthusiasm for upskilling doesn’t come from nowhere, either. His father is a self-made businessman who has an even more varied resume than Daniel’s.
“He sells and delivers pork from Hog Auction Markets to hawkers, he helps his friend sell bicycle parts and accessories, he imports and sells construction sand. It’s like rojak!”
Ultimately, even his passion for upskilling isn’t just for himself. “My other intention is to motivate my workers. I want to tell them that everything will change in this world. It’s very competitive. Tomorrow, you might have to adopt something completely new. Learning and upskilling really is about enhancing your career opportunities. At least that is what I tell them.”
Those looking to upskill themselves like Daniel also have the option to do so. NTUC LearningHub provides a comprehensive range of training courses for workers to upgrade their skillsets and improve their employability.