Sunday 14 July 2013

Many locals asking about being crane operators

Inquiries pour in after Khaw urges more S'poreans to take on the work
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 13 Jul 2013

MORE than 1,200 Singaporeans have stepped forward to inquire about being crane operators, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

The "overwhelming response" - which was revealed on his blog - came two months after he bemoaned the lack of locals willing to do the job.

But although more citizens have been inquiring, Singaporean crane operators remain in short supply. In May, Mr Khaw pointed out that only half of the 3,600 people doing the job here were local. Although crane operators earn between $2,000 and $7,000 a month, Singaporeans are put off by the risks and perception that it is blue-collar work.

Mr Khaw's comments came amid a ramp-up in the Housing Board's Build-To-Order scheme. "A few hundred more" Singaporeans were needed, he said then.

Coverage of his remarks appears to have led to some supply trickling in.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) runs a crane operators' apprenticeship programme, which puts trainees through a sponsored 12-day course and pays them $3,000 over six months when they start the job. It is already at full capacity with more than 60 would-be operators signing up. Trainees work on a crane simulator, giving them hands-on knowledge, said Mr Khaw.

"In view of the increased demand, BCA is talking to industry firms so that there are more training providers which can set up additional training facilities," he added.

Meanwhile, construction companies have stepped forward to recruit local crane operators. For instance, Straits Construction executive director Kenneth Loo employs 28 of them and is on the hunt for more.

About 50 companies have registered an interest in taking part in the Crane Operator Apprenticeship Programme. This could result in about 100 job vacancies involving three types of crane.

Tower cranes, up to 300m high, are used to build tall buildings. Crawler cranes move on tracks and are used for drilling, while mobile cranes move on roads and are for general lifting.

BD Cranetech director Jeffrey Lim said the shortage of locals can be traced to the possible dangers involved in the job and the perception it is blue-collar work.

For instance, tower crane operators must manually climb to the one-person cabin near the top, where they sit in isolation for a shift lasting eight hours or more.

"Educated locals might look down on such menial work, even though these are the highest- paid blue-collar jobs around," said Mr Lim. "But what the Government is doing now is necessary. If you don't change the perceptions and attitudes now, it will be harder to do so in future."

Guan Chuan Engineering's Mr Raymond Lim was a courier before becoming a crane operator.

"What I treasure most about this job is the stability," said the 30-year-old. "The pay is not too bad either."

* Greying crane industry needs a big lift
40% of operators here are above 50; demand rising amid construction boom
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2013

HANDLING a several-tonne steel giant with delicate precision for long hours may not seem like the ideal job for a senior citizen. But Mr Chan Cheng Poh is up to the task. The white-haired 65-year-old is a crane operator at civil engineering firm Huationg - and he is far from alone.

The pool of crane operators is greying, even as the demand for them is rising. And although there are efforts to get more locals involved, training bottlenecks and picky clients make it an uphill task.

Almost 40 per cent of Singapore's 3,600 crane operators are above 50 years old, according to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

In fact, older workers are almost a norm. "In this trade, 50 is not considered old," said Asiagroup Leasing's human resource manager Jacqueline Toh.

Industry players say crane operators can work until 70. Operators agree, but say age takes a toll.

Said Mr Cheong Kee Khong, 59, who drives a mobile crane from site to site: "As you grow older, the burden of the job is greater." Now, he tires by the end of his eight-hour day, and clocks less overtime - even though the need for it is rising.

With strong construction activity, demand for cranes and operators is up. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a blog post in May that "a few hundred more" are needed.

The move to prefabricated construction also means there is a greater need to hoist parts such as staircases and walls into place.

Recruiting younger crane operators is a solution, and Singaporeans do seem interested.

The BCA received 1,200 enquiries when it launched the Crane Apprenticeship Programme in April. The one-year scheme sponsors the mandatory licensing course and offers on-the-job training.

But progress is stalled by a shortage of training places, with a wait of up to six months each for two modules, said Huationg general manager and Singapore Cranes Association vice-chairman Jimmy Chua.

To that, the BCA said it has ramped up provision. The three- to nine-month wait has been cut to three to six months for the first module, and one to five months for the second. Another crane training centre is also in the works.

Yet after getting licensed, new crane operators face another hurdle: Clients may not want them.

Major clients like the Land Transport Authority and the Housing Board often require operators with at least five years' experience, to improve safety.

Said the BCA: "This is a good thing as the crane operation trade is a highly specialised trade with a very high safety impact."

But it also means few opportunities for new crane operators.

"So we can't really give them ample training," said Moh Seng Cranes managing director Jovan Yap, who would like to hire more crane operators - but not if they end up being unable to take the job.

Nor is the requirement foolproof, he added, as "five years of experience" just means five years since receiving the licence. "(The authorities) should focus on the number of hours that they clock in the company," he suggested.

Raising new operators for the job
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2013

FOR Mr Wong Chun Hoe, 27, getting to work means a 20-storey climb - to the cabin of his tower crane.

"If you don't have much education, this kind of skilled work can earn you good money," said the O-level graduate.

As a crane operator with Smatra Engineering, he makes about $4,000 a month, working 12-hour days.

He is one of 85 trainees in the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) Crane Apprenticeship Programme.

Launched in April, it is open to citizens and permanent residents, and aims to attract more locals to the occupation. About half of the 3,600 crane operators here are foreign.

In the scheme, job hopefuls are matched with potential employers and take a 12-day course to get a crane licence. They then begin a year of on-the-job training, which will allow them to operate more powerful cranes.

In their apprenticeship year, they earn a basic pay of at least $2,000 a month. The BCA chips in with two extra payments of $3,000. Their pay at the end of the programme is at least $2,300.

Next year, the scheme has places for 105 tower crane, 42 crawler crane and 30 mobile crane operators. But what remains to be done is to get more firms on board. So far, firms have committed to providing only about half of these places.

Moves to attract more locals to become crane operators
By John Leong, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Nov 2013

The crane industry will set up a registry and a one-stop training centre to enhance its image and professionalism.

This is part of efforts to attract more Singaporeans to join the industry as crane operators.

This was announced at the first-ever Crane Carnival.

To become more professional and raise safety standards - these are the broad aims of the Singapore Cranes Association (SCA) and its partners in announcing two initiatives.

One initiative is a one-stop training centre to address gaps in the current decentralised training structure.

The other initiative is a crane operators registry to track safety records and ensure skills are up-to-date.

This comes as cranes become more widely used in the construction industry.

Both the registry and training centre will go online in the next year or two.

The industry says the initiatives are all part of a re-branding rather than any response to recent safety lapses at worksites.

The moves are also to attract more locals to sign up as crane operators.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi said: "We must ensure that there is a pipeline of trained, qualified and safety-conscious crane operators.

"The industry must help job-seekers understand the career paths available and the important role crane operators play in the safety of our workplaces and public spaces."

Starting monthly salaries for crane operators can be as high as S$4,000.

But less than half of the 5,000 or so registered operators are Singaporeans.

This is one reason the association says it will have more events like the Crane Carnival to raise awareness.

At the carnival, the public was given a preview of what it would be like to operate the mega machines. Interested parties were also given the chance to apply for a job.

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