Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

TL;DR –  Next time you buy Starbucks coffee, ask your barista what exciting skill he/she is learning next.

Why is Starbucks still going strong in Singapore after more than 24 years? Yes, it has been around for that LONG.

Besides giving customers a third space to drink coffee and chill, Starbucks’ friendly staff make you feel like you’re in a place where you belong.

Being a human-centric company, Starbucks prioritises enabling its Starbucks partners (a term that refers to all Starbucks employees) to be familiar with Starbucks’ latest innovations and learn how to further serve and build meaningful customer connections.

On a learning journey to Starbucks with NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng and e2i’s CEO Gilbert Tan (both seated on the left and far left respectively), we learnt how the future Barista 4.0 isn’t just about making good coffee, but also having technical, technological and adaptive skills.

When new employees join Starbucks, these partners go through a whole slew of training courses to learn:

  • Adaptive skills (e.g. customer service)
  • Technical skills (e.g. of making good coffee, managing a store), and
  • Technological skills (e.g. operating the sales and HR systems)

And yes, these are the very types of skills that the labour chief Ng Chee Meng has advocated that all Workers 4.0 should be equipped with.

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Life of a Starbucks Barista

To understand what all these means, I had the privilege of chatting with Starbucks partner, Nur Shafiqah Binte Mohamed Noor, 27, as she prepared coffee via a siphon method at Starbucks’ Reserve bar at Paya Lebar Quarter.

Shafiqah is a Starbucks coffee master (coffee masters wear black aprons), The Advanced Coffee Master badges indicate the extra examinations and certifications (siphon, chemex, pour-over and Black Eagle espresso machine), which are requirements for any coffee master stationed at the Reserve Bar.

Shafiqah joined the retail coffee chain eight years ago in January 2012 as a part-time barista when she was 19 years old, with no F&B nor barista experience.

Eleven months later, she was promoted to a part-time Chief Supervisor and then subsequently converted to a full-time Chief Supervisor.

She actually studied accountancy in ITE, but felt her grades were not good enough to move on to polytechnic, and she did not have enough funds to take a private diploma.

To earn an income, Shafiqah decided to join Starbucks after a friend asked her to apply for a part-time job so they could work at the Plaza Singapura outlet together. Working in Starbucks would allow her to enjoy her passions – making coffee and meeting new people.

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“When I worked at various Starbucks outlets, I made a lot of friends who were customers. What’s really interesting about Starbucks customers is that they actually become your friend and will visit you from one outlet to another. One customer from Marina One, my ex-outlet, came over here to PLQ to say hi to me. When you’re outside with your family after work, some customers will come and say hi also.”

Shafiqah shared her training journey with Starbucks:

“We have to go through a Barista Experience at the Starbucks Support Centre where we were introduced to Starbucks heritage and history. For in-store training, we start with the Basic Barista Training where we learn about standard operating procedures for beverage making, training for POS (point-of-sale).”

“When the partner has been with us for a few months and we see potential, we will groom him/her to the next level of Barista Trainer, who is capable of training new recruits and responsible for their development. We also receive training on upselling skills at POS, shift supervisor training, inventories-in-time and deployment, and People, Product and Partners.”

Starbucks baristas can climb their way up to be a coffee master at the Starbucks Reserve Bar, an interactive coffee bar where customers and baristas can chat while their coffee is brewed on the spot.

Shafiqah is also one of the few selected baristas selected to be a class facilitator to help the training of new recruits, to be someone who can inspire them with personal sharing and guidance.

She tells people who want to join the industry:

“Do whatever you feel you want to do. It is not going to be an easy job, it is a commitment as this job takes up a lot of passion, interest and love for people, customer service and coffee.”

When Shafiqah was about to compete in her first regional Starbucks competition, she struggled with self-doubt, but drew inspiration from her experience as a first-time mother.

“I was so nervous, I kept telling my managers that I’m nobody and I don’t have the relevant experience. That was the kind of negativity I had when joining the competition, during the audition.”

“However public speaking has always been a part of me when I was young. I loved telling stories. How I made my presentation at the competition different was that I infused my personal story with the coffee story for a personal touch.”

“What I did was talk about global warming and motherhood, the struggles and changes I experienced as a new mother’s body changes after giving birth, relating it to how the world is changing due to climate change.”

“The world has done so much for us, but it keeps on deteriorating after what we’ve done to it. Hence we should continue to love our world and look after it, just as we should continue to love ourselves and look after ourselves even as our body changes due to motherhood.”

During a 2019 regional competition, Shafiqah’s shared on how families and society could appreciate mothers more, personally having experienced how difficult it was to survive as a new mother with the pain of childbirth, sleepless nights, breastfeeding while the infant was teething and having hormonal changes in the body. Her authentic storytelling paired with her barista skills led her to win the competition although it was her first time participating.

Shafiqah elaborated that global warming affects the taste of coffee, as there is an optimum temperature for coffee beans to grow in.

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Due to warmer temperatures, farmers have had to shift their coffee plantations to higher altitudes to grow in cooler temperatures, and have had to deal with wastage of their shrubs that could not grow due to climate change. In less than 20 years, will good coffee be extinct if we fail to look after this world, to care for it?

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Transforming Starbucks partners to Worker 4.0

Via Starbucks’ partnership with the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), an organization established by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to create better jobs and lives for workers, at least 2000 Starbucks partners will be equipped with a new suite of adaptive, technical and technological skills under e2i’s Worker 4.0 framework by the end of 2020.

These over 2000 Starbucks partners include comprising store managers, district managers and baristas.

At least 2,000 Starbucks partners like Ashley, a Starbucks coffee master, will benefit from a new suite of adaptive, technical and technological skills that Starbucks will offer under e2i’s Worker 4.0 framework.

Starbucks also launched its new Mobile Order & Pay System for customers to easily order, pay and pick-up their handcrafted drink.

One of Starbucks’ latest innovations is the new Mobile Order & Pay (MO&P) feature that Starbucks Singapore launched in September 2019. As customers can beat the queue by ordering, customising and paying for their drinks on the Starbucks Singapore app, Starbucks partners will also need to adapt to a new way of managing orders as well as the in-store queue.

Patrick Kwok, General Manager, Starbucks Singapore explained how Starbucks is equipping its partners with future skills:

“The food and beverage industry is rapidly changing, alongside customers’ evolving needs and wants.”

“To keep up to speed with our digitally savvy customers who demand more seamless retail experiences and greater convenience, we need to ensure that our partners are well-equipped with the relevant skills to represent and provide the best Starbucks experience. We have always invested heavily in training our partners and aim to take that one step further with our updated learning and development programs.”

As we approach Industry 4.0, workers need to upgrade their adaptive, technology and technical skills to become Worker 4.0

Starbucks shared some refreshed and/or additional skills which will be taught in Starbucks training programs as part of e2i’s Worker 4.0 framework:

  • Adaptive skills: Serving to Lead and Passion for Service
  • Technical skills: Barista Basics, Shift Supervisor workshop and Store Manager Training
  • Technological skills: Human Resource Information System (HRIS) and Sales & Order Planning System
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Mr Gilbert Tan, Chief Executive Officer of e2i, elaborates how e2i and Starbucks are collaborating on the Worker 4.0 framework to train our local workers.

“e2i is pleased to partner Starbucks on this journey to establish a quality benchmark for training and upskilling among our local workforce.”

“The Worker 4.0 framework was developed in close consultation with various companies and workers on the ground, to understand and address concerns and needs as industries undergo transformation. In conjunction with our framework, we hope that Starbucks’ training programs will become a model for other organizations and help meet the changing needs and demands of Singapore’s F&B landscape.”.

Special thanks to Nur Shafiqah Binte Mohamed Noor, Starbucks Singapore and e2i for the interview and information.