Few takers for crane operator jobs paying up to $7,000

More local crane operators needed as BTO programme is ramped up: Khaw

THE pay can be as much as $7,000 a month, yet the risks associated with operating cranes from high up seem to be deterring people from signing up.

So much so that National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday pointed out that more local crane operators are needed to cope with the ramped up number of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats in the pipeline.

Half of the 3,600 active operators now are Singaporeans, he wrote on his blog.

"But we need more, a few hundred more, as we ramp up our BTO programme," he added. "This is a good job with attractive remuneration."

Mr Khaw cited a Building and Construction Authority (BCA) survey done last year, which found that relatively new crane operators can take home $4,000 a month including overtime pay and allowances, with more senior operators getting $6,000 to $7,000 a month.

But construction companies told The Straits Times that operators are harder to find for tower cranes, used to construct tall buildings, crawler cranes, which move on tracks and are used for drilling, and mobile cranes, which move on roads.

That is because the certification requirements are stringent.

"It's not a lowly-paid profession, but it's not a very popular choice for locals. Maybe it's not that sexy," said Mr David Christodoulou, regional operations manager of construction company McConnell Dowell.

Locals are also wary of working in crawler cranes which are dusty and dirty, and tower cranes which are fixed on top of buildings, noted crane manufacturer BD Cranetech director Jeffrey Lim.

"Most Singaporeans think twice before they want to work in these. For tower cranes, operators must eat, drink and stay up (in the operating cabin) for four to eight hours," said Mr Lim.

"No matter how stable you are, there's always a moment of shakiness when the wind or rain comes. If you're not well-trained, it's quite scary."

Still, crane operators are crucial for prefabrication, a productivity-boosting strategy in which building components are made in factories, transported to construction sites and hoisted by cranes for assembly.

About 70 per cent of a BTO block is built this way, and a crane is needed for each block under construction.

With Mr Khaw's announcement in 2011 that the Housing Board would build flats ahead of demand to clear a backlog and with almost 200,000 public and private residential units expected to be completed by 2016, there is a bigger need for crane operators.

To attract more locals to the trade and reduce the industry's reliance on foreign manpower, BCA this month launched the Crane Apprenticeship Programme.

One of six apprentices in the year-long programme's inaugural batch is Mr Steven Kok, 28, a sole breadwinner with three young children, who had been job-hopping trying to make ends meet.

"I heard about this job from my friend who said that it's not bad, can make some money," said the Institute of Technical Education graduate, who was mentioned by Mr Khaw in his post.

Added Mr Kok of his new job: "It's challenging because you face some situations such as working despite blind spots. You have to depend on the other workers to give signals and your own judgment."

charyong@sph.com.sg