Walk into a restaurant in Little India and there is a chance you may be greeted in Mandarin.
The problem of finding staff who can communicate with customers who speak Indian languages was raised by business owners in the area at an inaugural forum organised by the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association yesterday.
Raising their concerns with guest of honour Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State (Law and Education), chairman Rajakumar Chandra said hiring staff who can communicate with the thousands of Little India visitors has become a problem with the labour shortage.
Mr Rajakumar, 55, asked if the policy could be "tweaked" to allow employers to hire workers from India, instead of limiting them to those from "traditional" sources like Malaysia.
He said many Malaysians are choosing to stay in their country, where there are now more job opportunities. "A lot of the shops sell traditional Indian goods and these are best handled and sold by people who can speak the same language."
Ms Indranee said she would raise the issue with the Ministry of Manpower.
She recommended the association collate and categorise the range of challenges faced by the 700 businesses - including restaurants, provision shops and goldsmith shops - which come under its umbrella.
She also suggested owners look into improving productivity where possible, for instance by mechanising some processes to reduce the dependency on service staff.
The forum, at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Little India, was organised to raise awareness among small and medium-sized enterprise owners about the government grants, funds and schemes available.
Participant Sandran Raju, 52, who co-owns Selvi's Beauty Parlour in Little India Arcade, said he is interested in exploring grants from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency for a beauty training institute he wants to open to train Singaporeans. "This would help us be less dependent on foreign labour in the long run."