SINGAPORE - As well as cleaning floors around the house, they will be able to knot a tie, set the table for English afternoon tea and know the correct way to open a bottle of champagne: turn the bottle, not the cork.
A group of "elite housekeepers" may be in Singapore households by the end of the year.
One of the largest maid agencies here, Nation Employment, is planning to train a select group of maids who will be able to deliver more extensive services and command higher pay.
"Employers are looking for more than a pair of hands," said Mr Gary Chin, Nation's managing director. "Families are getting more sophisticated and we've had feedback from employers who say they are willing to pay more, but 'please give me a good maid so I don't need to keep changing'."
He believes they will be able to earn $50 more a month when they start work.The first classes to train them are likely to begin in June, and Nation hopes to have 100 such maids ready to work within the first six months.
Since Tuesday, six of their trainers have been picking up skills from Mr Gary Williams, principal of the British Butler Institute in London, who is in Singapore for a week.
"The people we teach don't have to work in a massive house," said Mr Williams, whose first job was as the head butler of The Ritz, London. "It's about the service mindset."
The trainers, some of whom are from Nation's training partner Workskills Development Centre, will be certified to teach others and grow the pool of trainers.
Classes will be held in Singapore initially but 30-day courses are planned for maids in the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar.
There will be selection criteria for the maids such as proficiency in English, education level, experience and interest in learning the extra skills. Potential trainees will have to pass an interview.
Nation also hopes to liaise with hotels who may want to improve their service, as well as the Ministry of Education in order to roll out an etiquette programme in schools. In time, it plans to open courses to the public.
"There are too many agencies now, the market is saturated here and we are always looking for a niche area," said Mr Chin.
The cost of training one person is at least $800. Mr Chin said his company will absorb the costs at the start but eventually charge employers.
Employer Serene Liok told The Straits Times a maid with such advanced skills would be helpful when entertaining guests.
The 65-year-old retiree regularly has groups of up to 20 around for a meal and has two maids on hand to help make sure the food is well presented and wine is served from the correct glasses.
But civil servant Geraldine Ang, 50, said: "It's not something critical that I need from my maid. What is important for me is that she is... honest, and can cook fairly well."
This article was published on April 19 in The Straits Times.
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