Entrepreneur

These NTU Students Developed An App So That S'pore Migrant Workers Can Have Safe Homes Too

For a country as small as ours, Singapore has a stunning number of migrant workers, and it’s been climbing steadily since 2012. And while many have adjusted to living in Singapore, there are still issues that remain unresolved – namely that of accommodation.

According to the Ministry Of Manpower (MOM), employers have to meet the basic requirements for what constitutes adequate housing for these workers. However, 2016 still saw a slew of reports calling out companies that either failed to adhere to them, or falsified information to the MOM.

Unfortunately, many migrant workers still lack support, so these NTU students have stepped up to make a change.

HouseTrac

HouseTrac is a new startup that helps to keep track of accommodation standards for migrant workers in Singapore. The startup uses an app platform that allows workers to send photos of their lodgings to employers, as well as update them about any changes.

Image Credit: Genytek/housetrac

After an employer has signed up with HouseTrac, the migrant workers will receive an SMS notification to carry out a “Digital Housing Inspection” by downloading the app onto their phones.

From there, they will be able to take pictures of their living quarters to send to their employers for verification.

Image Credit: The HouseTrac Team
Image Credit: The HouseTrac Team

The employer side of the app allows companies to manage all the data.

Photos saved on the portal allows the company’s HR team to determine if the living conditions of their workers are adequate. If they are considered to be unsafe or inadequate, companies can then carry out their own advanced inspections before they make any decisions, which may include requesting the workers to move.

Image Credit: Genytek/housetrac

According to the team, it typically costs employers S$80 or more to make a trip down to the workers’ accommodations for a physical inspection.

Via the HouseTrac platform, employers only have to pay $6 per digital transaction and saves them the hassle of travelling down, unless further inspections are necessary.

The NTUitive startup first launched in June 2016, and November 2016, already saw their first paying customer.

Roots In NTU

“The idea of HouseTrac came about from our mentor, the managing director from one of the largest employment agencies in Singapore. He mooted the whole concept of HouseTrac, and since my team and I were keen, we decided to take it on.”

The startup is currently managed by 5 undergraduates – Hang Zhi Cheng, Loo Hong Chai, Chan Jun Yan, Tan Peng Hian and Han Yi Chou, all of whom are developers. As the friends were looking for ideas to explore, they decided to approach NTUitive.

There, their mentor Mr. David Leong, a successful entrepreneur in his own right, introduced the idea of helping migrant workers in Singapore.

Everyone on the team contributes to managing the platform; from developing the product, to providing customer support as well as managing sales and marketing.

Co-founder Hang shares that for his team, managing sales has been the toughest task of all as none of them are adept at it.

“We started out as developers and after a month of development, we had to start selling our product. It was tough as the schedule was really tight. Luckily, we had our mentor to guide us and point us to the correct direction when we are losing our way.”

Team members Peng Hian and Hong Chai / Image Credit: Hang Zhi Cheng

With everyone being undergraduates, they have to work on weekends and ensure that their timetables do not clash so that there would always be someone to handle customer support calls.

The team also found success at the Singapore National Employers Federation in November 2016, a trade union representing employers across industries. There, the team was able to link up with “interested parties in the manufacturing, entertainment and hotel industry”.

Presenting at the SNEF 2016 / Image Credit: Hang Zhi Cheng

Uncovering Migrant Misconceptions

“Many people think that migrant workers live in very poor and overcrowded living conditions, but that is not the case. Many actually live in nice rented HDB flats/rooms/condo.”

Having proper housing standards is a crucial condition for the MOM, and it is not true that all of them stay in the container dormitories many might associate them with.

However, this is not the case for many of the workers.

Hang shares that although the workers are well aware of the official requirements, many continue to defy their employers. The heart of the problem lies in the fact that they do it willingly, so that they can send the extra money to their families back home.

The team shares that they also saw how workers were extremely thrifty and never splurged on meals.

A Migrant Message

“Every migrant worker has their own personality and they have already been used to their own way of life some which may differ from the norms in Singapore.”

Given our national support and upbringing in racial harmony, we may not choose to believe that xenophobia exists in Singapore. Unfortunately, the truth stands that it is an ugly thing that rears its head even in today’s society.

On his thoughts about migrant workers in Singapore, Hang reflects that it is important that Singaporeans understand that they are “equally like us.”

“Every migrant worker has their own personality, and they have already been used to their own way of life, some which may differ from the norms in Singapore. It will take time for them to learn and adapt to our new environment.”

Having worked with them closely, Hang stresses that “it’s not easy for someone to leave their homeland and family behind to an unknown land to seek opportunities. Our forefathers did the same.”

Instead of shaming and ostracising them, Singaporeans should empathise with them, to understand their cultural idiosyncrasies in a peaceful way.

You can download the HouseTrac apps here for iOS and Android, and visit their website here.

Featured Image Credit: Hang Zhi Cheng

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