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He hopes to use robotics to make cleaning a breeze
By Bryant Chan

NEA-Industry scholar Danish Sirhan Zulkifli wants to ease the burden on cleaners while changing perceptions of the labour-intensive industry

Mr Danish Sirhan Zulkifli hopes to use his passion and knowledge to positively impact the environmental services industry.

Building and creating things has always been a big part of Mr Danish Sirhan Zulkifli’s life. Some of his fondest childhood memories were spent assembling Ikea furniture with his father, and helping out with DIY maintenance and repairs at home.

He started small, simply handing over pegs and screws. But as he grew older, his father began entrusting him with more of the heavy lifting, eventually getting to the point where he was doing the majority of the assembly work.

Knowing that he was making something independently, as well as making something useful, filled him with a sense of accomplishment – and ultimately spurred him on to pursue his studies in the field of engineering, just like his father had before him.

A helping hand

Mr Danish enrolled in the Mechanical Technology Nitec programme at ITE College East in 2019. There, he learnt more about how machinery worked, the equipment required in his line of work, methods of assembling and disassembling machines, how to maintain them, and how to utilise computer-aided design and drafting tools.

“In my spare time, I also did more research about robotics and automation, knowing that it’s being used more frequently now to help ease the burden for those working in physically demanding industries such as cleaning,” says the 19-year-old, who enjoys helping his parents with household chores.

At home, Mr Danish began to notice that his father’s hands were not quite as steady as before and he was struggling to lift heavier furniture by himself. The realisation that his parents were getting on in years hit him, making him think about how else he could help make their lives easier.

“When I shared these thoughts with my ITE lecturer, he encouraged me to apply for the NEA-Industry Scholarship, through which I could later build a career in a field that I am passionate about,” he recalls.

Upon receiving the scholarship, which would help pave the way for aspiring candidates to join the fast-evolving environmental services industry, Mr Danish was attached to cleaning services provider RS Facilities Services as a technician last year.

A desire to spark change 

During his five-month internship, he was responsible for the daily inspection, repair and maintenance of the company’s autonomous cleaning robots that were deployed to various locations.

Through his interactions with the cleaning staff, Mr Danish soon learnt that many of them found their daily tasks tedious, repetitive and highly labour-intensive. 

“Most of them are elderly, so I really empathise with their struggles. Seeing my own parents ageing as well, my mindset shifted from simply making things, to wanting to make things that would help others,” he says.

Many cleaners also feel that their jobs are being looked down upon, despite playing a key role in keeping public areas clean. “Furthermore, many of them are not in the best of health, but they still have to work from morning till night,” adds the youth, who has a soft spot for them.

However, their circumstances also present an opportunity. As the cleaning industry steadily modernises, he foresees that not only will tasks become automated – significantly reducing the cleaners’ workload – but perceptions of the profession will also shift over time.

Due to his good academic grades, Mr Danish was able to skip two years of his Nitec programme, and enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic’s Common Engineering Programme in April this year.

He wants to explore further opportunities with RS Facilities Services after graduation.

“I’m very excited to help cleaners experience the benefits of robotics, so that they don’t have to do so many labour-intensive tasks in the future. It’s my way of contributing towards a better world for all,” he says.