Interview and translation by Gregory Loo Jhun Rhong
Though she was masked, Nancy’s (not her real name) warm smile was visible through the slight wrinkling in the corner of her eyes.
The soft-spoken customer service officer at Kenko Wellness nervously but sincerely greeted us as we entered the outlet, gently ushering us towards the communal waiting area of the spa for her interview.
Nancy’s anxiety was understandable. She was, after all, shortlisted for the media interview because she was an ex-offender and former beneficiary of Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG).
The single mother of one shared that she chose to join Kenko Wellness because of her interest in spa and wellness and her love for interacting with people from all walks of life.
She added: “Kenko Wellness is also a well-known spa in Singapore. It is a brand that I am proud to be a part of.”
As a former sales representative from the cosmetic industry, Nancy said the working environment at Kenko was, by comparison, more closely knitted and caring.
She shared how a massage therapist from the outlet she works at once helped examine and remedy her aching leg without charge.
Nancy was accompanied by Kenko Wellness Operations Manager Kang Joo Chai, 60, who oversees all operations at all Kenko Wellness outlets.
The veteran, who has been with the company for over 25 years, shared that the company’s decision to partner YRSG was first born out of necessity – shortly after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore.
“We have been partnering with YRSG for two years now. When Singapore first began easing COVID-19 restrictions, we were experiencing a shortage of manpower. As such, our management decided to work with YRSG, which would not only give the beneficiaries [of YRSG] a chance to reintegrate into society but also help alleviate Kenko’s manpower issues,” he explained in Mandarin.
When asked if the company provides different support to ex-offenders compared to other workers, Mr Kang quickly responded that all workers are treated as equals at Kenko Wellness.
“We believe in a fair approach when it comes to providing assistance. Kenko Wellness has flourished over the last 30 years because of our unchanging philosophy – we are willing to train employees who may not yet be well-versed in their job scope, and we will nurture those who are well-versed to do even better.”
To help its workers do even better, Kenko Wellness taps on the expertise of its sister company, Kenko Academy.
Established in 2007, the academy offers a wide array of courses for both staff and members of the public.
Besides its spa services courses, which are not Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certified, the academy also offers WSQ-certified courses in food and beverage, digital marketing and even first aid.
It even offers an International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) certified diploma in holistic massage.
Mr Kang said: “[One of] the goals of this academy are to allow our employees to work while continuously upskilling themselves … We consistently arrange for opportunities to train and upgrade the skills of our employees.”
Besides providing its staff with adequate training to excel at work, Kenko provides non-work-related training to equip its employees with additional skills and knowledge.
“Our employees can also utilise the academy to attend cooking or personal management courses. We have approximately 50 approved courses for them,” Mr Kang added.
Kenko is also one of the few spa and wellness companies to be unionised in Singapore.
The company is unionised under The Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers’ Union (SMMWU).
Mr Kang shared that the company takes an open and fair approach to its workers, and it believes that the union can help bridge the gap between Kenko and its employees regarding employment matters and disputes.
He elaborated: “If employees have doubts, they can seek out the union for clarifications. We have adopted a transparent approach, and the union will be able to clarify any doubts employees may have.
“The union comprises many professionals equipped to help us with disputes between employees and us. This also helps to reduce conflict between employees and the company.”
Kenko was presented with the Plaque of Commendation at this year’s May Day Awards for its dedication towards its workers and collaboration with the union.
Despite her past offences, Nancy believes that she still has much to offer at Kenko Wellness and remains hopeful for her future with the company.
Even though she has only been in the role for four months, Nancy said she enjoys the experience and immerses herself in the company’s working culture.
She also hopes to further upskill herself with the courses offered at Kenko Academy.
“My hope for the future is to grow with the company in the long run. I hope to one day get the opportunity to contribute and share my knowledge to help others grow and to get my friends in [the company] as well,” she said.