A Closer Look: Housekeeping

A recent chat with our very own Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) course manager yielded an interesting fact: that the housekeeping unit is THE fast track to climbing that corporate ladder in the hospitality industry. And rightly so, for where do you go to be intimately acquainted with hotel operations? This puts you on the right route to being part of the senior management team in future. But perhaps due misconceptions about housekeeping, very few venture into this area of the hospitality sector. That is why not many people take the time to truly understand the importance of the housekeeping unit in a hotel. Just imagine, without them, rooms will not be cleaned, toilets stay dirty and curtains remain musky (YUCKS). Not a welcoming sight to a tired traveler!

Here, a junior HTM student, Freya Lim, shares with us her experience during a 5-day attachment with the Association of Singapore Housekeepers, a professional association established in 1983. The group has currently more than 70 members and is committed to the growth and development of the housekeeping profession in Singapore.

 Since I started out at TP as a Hospitality and Tourism Management student, I have been taking on modules like food and beverage fundamentals, service skills methodology, geography for travel and tourism, festivals and events management, etc. You get the drift – not something that will let us have a close look into hotel operations.

As a poor (literally) student, I am always on the look out for casual part-time jobs that will not affect my studies. Most of the time (if not all), I land myself in waitressing jobs. The thing is, be it casual or part-time jobs, I am rarely exposed to the hotel industry. This is why when TP sent me an email to sign up for the annual Housekeeping Mentoring Scheme, I grabbed the opportunity. Imagine my happiness when I found out I got it! Next, I chose the hotel of my choice. Marriott was first on my list. I mean, don’t you just find that oriental-looking tower AMAZING? The best news was when I got accepted by the hotel.

I was nervous and excited at the same time about this. Nervous because the lecturer in-charge was telling us about how housekeepers can just ‘barge’ into a room and get it sparkling clean within minutes, and we should expect to be ignored as the housekeeping staff will be really busy; I felt that I would be more of a hindrance. Excited because, well, this is a whole new experience!

My nervousness was unfounded on the first day. Firstly, the seamstress aunty went through a lot of trouble just to get us students (I was with another course mate) two nice sets of uniforms. Then, the other aunty I was attached to was really hospitable! She would rather spend 40 minutes just to make up one room and explain the ins and outs of housekeeping rather than ignore me completely. She was so good and clear with her explanations that I immediately got the gist of how to make a bed.

During the five days of attachment, I got to work in different sub-departments within the department. You see, housekeeping is not all about just cleaning rooms (although I have to confess that’s what I thought before going for this attachment). There are the laundry and linen department, office and public areas of the hotel, and of course, the rooms. In order for us to get the most of our five days, the executive housekeeper actually took the time to schedule us into different parts of the department. She had also scheduled us in a way so that we are able to experience night turn down, a service which other hotels may not provide. After going through two awesome days as a Marriott hotel housekeeping staff (I was so proud to call myself that during the week), I decided to ‘share the joy’ with some of my close friends in school. Guess what? They totally brushed aside my experience :(

Many are still skeptical about the housekeeping as they have no idea what goes on in that department. When I met up with my relatives during Christmas and told them I was attached at the Marriott housekeeping department, they…  laughed. I was taken aback. The jibes came, “So what? Did you learn how to wash toilets? How about washing mine after your attachment?”

Jokes aside, I fought hard to keep my composure and explained patiently to them that that’s not what housekeeping is all about. Washing toilets in the housekeeping department is a skill! In fact, it’s so complicated that I didn’t even get to touch the toilet during the attachment! The aunty said that the toilet needs to be spotless and sparkling, therefore she needs to do it herself.

Participating in this program really elevated my knowledge to a whole new level. Funny how five days can show me that the hospitality industry is a whole big world out there. There are so many things to learn, so many things to experience! This is just the start.

I wouldn’t lie about it being not tiring or all sort of other unbelievable stuff to change your opinions. Yes, housekeeping is tiring, it is a tough job. But take it as a challenge – are you up for it? For those who worked part time, do you notice when you enjoy what you do, time FLIES? My time sort of went through an ultimate torpedo during the five days of attachment, like when you fast-forward to the favourite parts of you beloved movie (which you have watched for the XXth time), or when you go to the theme park and always pout when it’s time to leave.

To truly gain the essence of this program, just open up your mind and be determined to get your hands dirty. That’s what I did and look at my payoff – friendship, experience and opportunities galore (we were told that the department welcomes us back anytime).

It started out as a pure architectural curiosity, and now I have definitely achieved more than I imagined. Now, whenever I pass Orchard Road and Marriott Hotel, I will always take more than just one look at my beloved hotel – I just love that place even more now!

Housekeeping is now one of my choices for a possible career in the future. What have you done to open your mind to the infinite possibilities in the hotel industry?

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