SG productivity sucks & here’s why

I’m not in the least bit surprised that the productivity numbers in Singapore for the last quarter of 2011 declined. And I’m sure it will remain on the downward path, come economic good times or bad.

Take my recent experience of how work is done in Singapore.

The first instance was documented here.

Now let me share the most recent aggravating instance when I had my balcony enclosed. All 8 frames of louvre windows plus one frame of sliding windows.

Oh yes, and the existing set of grills sans windows in the said balcony had to be dismantled first, of course, to make room for the new enclosure.

How difficult could that job be?

I don’t fault the salesman who came by one evening to take the measurements be4 giving me his quotation. After all, he had to double-confirm the measurements I had taken, right?

I accepted his quotation, he sent his “foreman” to take the final measurements.

(OK, perhaps that’s his sub-contractor?)

So, foreman came by another afternoon. And took the measurements again, to treble confirm that aforesaid measurements by the salesman and yours truly were correct.

I wasn’t overly perturbed yet at this stage as another company I had called had given me the same routine as well; except that we didn’t go beyond the first visit as the quote that the 2nd contractor gave was 60% higher than that given by the company I settled for! Worse, it didn’t even realise that my original specs were no longer in production and only found out after much calling around of their contacts!

Anyway work started one Monday morning earlier this month. Two workers turned up punctually at 10am as scheduled, which was in itself a miracle considering how tardy workmen and delivery men in this country habitually are.

Apres that, it was all downhill!

First, the weather was horrible. Thunder and lightning since early morning even be4 work began.

The two half-drowned rats who turned up — tho punctual — didn’t fill me with confidence. They brought hardly any tools; a half broken small ladder, a small dirty tool box and a ragged tarpaulin ground sheet, supposedly to cover the route to the balcony but which remained half folded throughout the job.

I quickly offered newspapers, old towels and other rags. But not comprehensive enough for the workers’ poorly equipped needs!

I found out later that one of our mops — meant for the bedrooms, as we keep different mops for different rooms — was requisitioned, without any by your leave; as was a dustpan plus the maid’s bathroom-toilet which became the battle-ground for mixing white cement! :( :( :( 

I had to rush to the bathroom every few minutes to flush the toilet bowl for fear the cement dregs would coagulate and block the outlets.

Stressful, stressful! Even my stern admonitions to use the common toilet downstairs in the condo lobby fell on deaf ears.

Yet I don’t blame the workers — entirely — but those who sent them. Why weren’t they properly equipped for the job? Why weren’t they briefed on what they should and shouldn’t do on site?

Also, my heart went out somewhat to the workers, following my discovery that they had to walk up eight flights of stairs to bring the aluminium window frames up to my home, as they could not fit into the lifts!

Now why didn’t those who came to get my business and did the measurements take into consideration that there was no way of fitting in bulky aluminium frames into the lifts and made appropriate manpower or machinery arrangements for them to get to site without tiring out those who had to do the installation?

Consequently, it was a near miracle that the dismantling of the old grills and the installation of the frames and the glass panels slotted individually into the louvres took  just 6 hours, with the two workers foregoing lunch or even a real break!

I gave them biscuits, coffee and water which they gobbled down gratefully.

Then they left.

Only for me to discover to my horror they had left every single glass pane — there were 82 of them — covered in finger prints and other smudges that defied efforts at cleaning by mum’s Picky Siti. In fact, we exchanged loud words over threw large patches on sticky stuff on the sitting room floor that also defied PS’ efforts to clean!

Naturally, angry text messages were sent to the salesman following such discoveries. And he was prompt in his reply. Soothingly apologetic. Would send people over to clean up the next day. At 2pm. They were at the door the next day at 1.30pm Ah, the power of having 60% of the payment still in my hands!

But like the first crew, the salesman who turned up with the “foreman” came with hardly any tools. A couple pieces of cloth and a flick knife where the blade could be broken off bit by bit were all they had! :roll:

Naturally I had to provide whatever else was necessary, including Magikleen for glass, newspapers and two ladders. I don’t know what they would have done if my household wasn’t that well equipped.

Yet after two hours with the afternoon sun shining right on them, they barely managed any headway on the smudged glass panes. And asked to call it a day, promising to bring “people” to clean up “properly” the following day.

I could have refused to pay up till the job was completed to my satisfaction — or with-held a portion of it. I decided against both. For I might not let them return one more time once I’ve slept on the matter — that annoyed I was. Of course, they might not return either after receiving full payment.

I decided to be Da Fang. Heck! Get them out of my elite face!

To my surprise, the “foreman” did return — punctually at 10.30am, with no reminder etc — accompanied by a worker who appeared to know what had to be done. Better still, each had a large piece of cloth and a hand-held yellow can of Ronsonol — a lighter fluid which is supposed to remove grease, oil stains and what have you.

They worked silently and doggedly and yes, managed to remove 95% of all the stains on the glass panes and all that were on the floor about 2 hours later

I wasn’t pleased or displeased in the end.

It just seems such a stupid waste of manpower, their time and my time as well. The work involved 20 manhours in all — 12 on the first day and four each on the subsequent two days. Not counting the time spent on the first two visits to take measurements.  And not counting my time and Picky’s time spent also in the clean up.

No wonder friends of mine who live in truly developed countries like Australia marvel at how one workman can lay the carpets — or other home improvement stuff — for their whole house and all within a day!

It’s thanks to having the right equipment to do the job and the right process.

So, while Mr Ngiam Tong Dow is right about the need to raise productivity among Singaporeans and rely less on foreigners (at least 3 of the 5 characters who participated in my “enclose the balcony” charade were foreign workers), the equally important thing is to provide all workers with the correct tool and a road map on how any one job should be carried out.

It’s not tikam-tikam, bosses! Geddit?

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5 thoughts on “SG productivity sucks & here’s why

  1. You know I remember often hearing the boasts of local politicians about how efficient and how much cheaper a job can be done locally compared to in an angmoh’s country. But, very quickly I realized that the reasons were not that the local workers and companies are better.
    THE REASON WERE AS IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, CHEAP AND UNSKILLED LABOUR WAS OFTEN THE ORDER OF THE DAY. IT WAS ALSO CHEAPER BECAUSE INFERIOR MATERIALS WERE OFTEN USED AND PASSED OFF AS THE REAL MCOY. IT WAS FASTER BECAUSE CUTTING CORNERS AND INDIFFERENT WORKMANSHIP WAS ENDEMIC.

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 22 Mar 2012 « The Singapore Daily

  3. Uncle Anon, mine wasn’t really any faster or more efficient. And while price-wise it may sound cheaper than the other quote I referred to, I’m not convinced that had I gone for the more expensive quote I would have got anything better. In any case, the 2nd contractor didn’t give me any confidence he knew his business because he didn’t know from the word go that my orginal specs couldn’t be met. Until he made several calls! The first contractor was adamant that my specs cldn’t be met right from our first meeting: “Ms Lucy, the window profile you want doesn’t exist any more”, he said flatly.

    The system’s a mess not because of foreign or local workers fm what i can see but because there isn’t a system. There are too many middle men or brokers and they grab whatever worker they can, sometimes off the streets!

    If we don’t fix this, we can talk abt raising productivity levels till the WP becomes Govt and that will be another lifetime! :lol:

  4. Remember the what LimSweeSway said about having FTs doing things “cheaper, faster, and better”. Here you have it all but just the opposite. Thanks to Pro Alien Party

  5. Actually FTs could possibly do it faster, better, cheaper — if they have the right tools and the right road map (process) to follow. But it definitely wasn’t the case in my experience and I dare say it wasn’t/isn’t so for most small sub-contracted jobs in SG… grrr…

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