We do not all get the same opportunities in life.
Unlike most other primary school attending kids in the early 90s, Alvin Kee had to stop his formal education journey at the tender age of 12, just after finishing his PSLE.
It was financially hard for his family back then, and Alvin needed to start work early to help his parents and three siblings make ends meet.
Despite the challenges faced in his youth, the friendly and humble 40-year-old has proven himself an adaptable worker – one who maintains a positive attitude at work.
He also knows the importance of education and training to stay relevant, sharing his desire to return to class should his schedule permit. This was why he was nominated by both his management and the Food, Drink and Allied Workers Union (FDAWU) for this year’s Model Worker Award during the May Day Awards 2021.
On receiving the award, he said: “I am very surprised that my manager, Jason, would recommend me for this award. My management has been very supportive as well. I am truly shocked [to receive this award].”
When I first met Alvin, he was quick to invite me up to his home, away from the sweltering midday heat to conduct the interview – something that most interviewees would typically shy away from, suggesting either a nearby coffee joint or void deck.
He told me that before he joined Coca-Cola, he was working as an outdoor sales representative, selling and replenishing health supplements at retail shops. Then some eight years ago, Alvin’s long-time friend – who was working in the company – told him of a job opportunity as a vending sales assistant.
“There was an opportunity, and my friend asked me to join him. Plus, Coca-Cola is a well-known brand, so I thought why not give it a try,” he shared.
Alvin first started out replenishing vending machines which dispensed cup drinks. Around four years later, he made the switch to replenishing canned drinks.
Alvin’s usual workweek sees him travel to almost 20 locations daily to restock vending machines.
“My daily routine involves travelling down to the vending machine locations, replenishing the canned and polyethene terephthalate (PET) bottled drinks, checking the drinks’ expiration date, collecting the cash from the machines, and the general maintenance of the machine,” he explained.
Each machine would usually take him anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour, with him having to make multiple trips between the machine and his vehicle to take stock and replenish the drinks.
Sometime last year, the company wanted to implement a new Vending Management System (VMS) and was looking for volunteers to test the system.
The VMS would give the vending sales assistant real-time information on the amount of stock left in the vending machine, what to top-up, and how much to collect from the machine.
Alvin volunteered without much hesitation.
On why he did so, Alvin responded: “I didn’t know anything about IT systems back then. And seeing how everything is becoming IT based – like going cashless – I thought it would be a good time to take up this challenge.”
The training was largely on-the-job, with a software technician accompanying Alvin on his trips to the machines installed with the VMS. For him, his biggest challenge he confessed was his English proficiency, which made it difficult for him to understand and read up on the system.
Despite the challenges, he took the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the software and hardware of the system, even giving feedback on how the interface could be improved.
With his help, the VMS is now implemented across most of the vending machines owned by the company.
Instead of 45 minutes to an hour, replenishing now takes Alvin anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes.
What’s more, the once self-proclaimed “IT illiterate” is now mentoring others on the system.
I asked him what he hopes for the future, to which he said without hesitation: “I would like to go and further my studies if I can. Maybe take my O Levels, or at least go and take English lessons.”