ON HIS second day of work at Japanese restaurant Shin Kushiya in Serangoon Gardens, polytechnic student Noel Lim, 19, broke a glass.
"I froze," he recalls, "but I managed to compose myself and apologised to the customer later."
Mr Lim is part of a pool of 2,500 part-timers on local manpower firm TCC Solutions' payroll. They are available for hire by restaurants and retail shops which need to fill vacancies.
Some 70 per cent of the part-timers are students aged above 15; the rest are retirees and housewives.
The business got going last year thanks to Spring Singapore, which wanted to help restaurants and retailers beat the manpower crunch.
Spring, a statutory board, roped in TCC to recruit, train and send the part-timers to work. Firms that hire the part-timers pay TCC according to the total number of hours the part-timers worked, while TCC in turn pays the part-timers individually based on the hours they clocked.
TCC chief executive Winston Sim says the model works because the restaurants and retail shops get workers only when they need them, while the part-timers get to pick where they want to work and the hours.
"It is all about matching labour demand and supply, and our model works because the pool is large enough," he adds.
The part-timers are paid between $6.50 and $8.50 an hour. Mr Sim says his firm's profit margin is "about 15 per cent".
Mr Lim's employer, Mr Edwin Piper, the Shin Group of restaurants' executive director, is happy with the scheme.
His chain of seven restaurants hire about 50 waitstaff, and up to 30 per cent of them are part-timers. He sees the growing pool of part-timers as helping to ease the labour crunch, but not completely solving the problem.
According to the Manpower Ministry's annual labour force report, the number of part-timers in the resident workforce grew from 176,700 in 2010 to 194,700 last year.
When asked how the Government and firms can attract more people, especially students, to work part-time, Mr Lim said it depends on the circumstances and motivation of the individual worker.
"Flexibility of working hours is my top priority," he says, adding that he is prepared to work three to four times a week but he will cut down during exam time.
"But for other students, pay is the top factor to attract them to work part-time," he adds.
Spring tells Insight that it plans to extend the part-time pool programme by getting more manpower firms to run similar pools and growing the ranks of part-time workers.
Its next target is to train 5,000 part-timers over the next two years with the help of the Singapore Retailers' Association and the Restaurant Association of Singapore.