Good pay, but recruiting staff still a tall order
AS A boy, his favourite toys were the miniature bulldozers and cranes that his parents had bought him.
So enamoured was he of the toys and heavy machinery at construction sites that being a crane operator became his ambition.
Now 24, Marcus Chee is one of the youngest crane operators in Singapore, having joined his current company after national service two years ago.
But before he joined, his parents had asked: "Why do you want to get into such a risky career?"
His friends in his mechanical-engineering diploma course also wondered why Mr Chee would want to join the construction industry.
He said: "They have the misconception that this is a low-paying blue-collar job. They don't know that this is a highly skilled job that commands quite a high pay."
To his parents, he answered: "I'm passionate about it."
Mr Chee is an exception in his industry as there are very few crane operators under the age of 30. He told The New Paper: "In this line, there are basically no crane operators of my generation at all."
Mr Chee works for Bok Seng Logistics, one of 30 crane companies at the Crane Carnival at the Institute of Technical Education Central on Sunday.
The event, attended by some 1,500 visitors, was for jobseekers and to correct the misconceptions about the work of crane operators.
It ended with 226 people registering their interest in becoming crane operators, said an event spokesman.
The unattractiveness of the job is part of the reason that crane companies are facing a manpower crunch.
Michael Ang, chief operating officer of heavy-lifting company Tiong Woon Corporation, said: "Many people think it's not a glamorous job, but that's not true.
"Crane operators are actually one of the highest paid and most skilled professions in the construction industry."
In Mr Ang's company, the monthly pay for crane operators ranges from just below $3,000 to $7,000.
Because of the relatively small pool of skilled crane operators, the poaching of staff is a serious problem in the industry, he added.
Mr Ang said: "A full training cycle for a crane operator to be able to use the heaviest equipment is eight years, which is a long time.
"This can be bad because other companies will use wages to poach people, which is also why crane operators are paid so much."
Of the 200 workers he employs here, most are Singaporeans over 50.
The lack of new blood also means that there are some who are in their 70s and still working, said Mr Ang.
Locals are highly prized in the industry these days as there has been a 45 per cent cut in the foreign manpower allocated to a project, said Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association.
THE NEW PAPER