25 March 2015 - Two NUS Computing students were part of a team that won second place in the inaugural Manpower Hackathon that was held in early February.

The hackathon was organised by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)and Urban Prototyping (UP)to find nation-wide solutions to improve services and engagement for the large number of local and foreign workers in the service, manufacturing and construction industries. 

Some of the challenges that MOM faces in its communications efforts are the accessibility of its messages and their dissemination.

The participating developers were therefore tasked to devise ways in which technology can be used to improve communication and engagement with these workers and increase their awareness of their employment rights.

Third year Information Systems student Yap Zi Xuan and fourth year Communications & Media student Wong Yong Jie teamed up with Valerie Pang from Yale-NUS College, Sazzad Hossain, founder of SDI Academy and student of St Andrew’s Junior College who is awaiting NS enlistment, and Larry, a freelance safety officer, to develop their project, LANGBRIDGE by SDI Academy. According to Yong Jie, “The lack of command of the English language is a significant obstacle to the social integration of migrant workers into the Singapore society, and is detrimental to the mental well-being of migrant workers. This also leads to lower productivity and distractions during work, which in turn leads to workplace accidents. The lack of ability to understand instructions during toolbox meetings and safety briefings also contribute to workplace accidents in Singapore.”

“To solve this problem,” Yong Jie explained, “we built LANGBRIDGE, a platform that enables migrant workers working in various industries to learn the English language, at the same time improve workplace safety by using terms and phrases that are tailored to each industry. When using the platform, users are asked to perform translation tasks from their native language to English and vice-versa. In addition, listening tests are included so that migrant workers are able to correctly understand what is being spoken.”

The experience of one of their team members, Sazzad, who founded SDI academy to teach foreign workers English and maintains contact with them, gave them great insight on the issue. Despite some of the challenges they faced, such as the tight pitching timeframe, Yong Jie believes that their work stood out because of the feasibility of their solution.

“Unlike many others who were focused on the technology, we had the solution in context. Many of the foreign workers' dormitories are already equipped with computers and Internet access. In addition, we had data on smartphone ownership of foreign workers. We were able to prove that our solution does not incur any additional equipment or costs in addition to what's already out there. There may be other factors too, I think, such as the diversity and youth of the team. Having someone on the team who could converse with the target audience of our solution was immensely helpful, and having professionals with expertise in workplace safety also helped us greatly. Zi Xuan's talent in user interface design also resulted in a polished prototype,” he explained. They were very surprised to win second place because their solution did not include any ‘cool’ tech, but were happy.

The top three winners were invited to apply for the funding provided by the Public-Private Co-Innovation Partnership (CI Partnership) programme, which is worth up to $250,000 for Proof-of-Concept.