Lift sector facing shortage of engineers, technicians

Technicians seen servicing a lift in a lift shaft at a block of HDB flat in Hougang in 2005.
Technicians seen servicing a lift in a lift shaft at a block of HDB flat in Hougang in 2005. PHOTO: ST FILE

Job more crucial with new maintenance rules but few young S'poreans keen to join industry

With tighter maintenance rules kicking in last week, lift technicians and engineers are more crucial than ever - yet they remain scarce.

"The whole industry has been short of manpower for the last 10 years or more," said Mr Sugumaran Pillai, president of the Singapore Lift & Escalator Contractors & Manufacturers Association.

The new rules give more clarity on maintenance standards but the required frequency of life maintenance each month is unchanged.

Of the labour shortage, Mr Quah Eng Hing, secretary of the Singapore Lift & Escalator Contractors & Manufacturers Association, said: "We've always been short of people. The pace of new people joining is slow but the number of lifts is still increasing."

The Building and Construction Authority has said it will look at building up manpower capabilities in the next phase of its review on lift safety regulations.

There are currently about 2,000 lift technicians. But a few big firms account for more than 70 per cent of all lift maintenance work. Among them is Hitachi Elevator Asia, which has lifts in commercial buildings, condominiums and hotels, but not in Housing Board blocks.

"Recruitment of locals has always been a challenge in any labour-intensive industry. But Hitachi has been able to recruit and retain manpower so far," said a Hitachi spokesman.

Seven of Hitachi's 10 maintenance engineers and 89 of its 118 maintenance servicemen are Singaporeans. The rest are Malaysians.

Hitachi noted that few young Singaporeans are keen to join the industry, "maybe due to a perceived tougher environment", compared with similar-paying jobs in manufacturing, sales or administration.

DEMAND OUTSTRIPS SUPPLY

We've always been short of people. The pace of new people joining is slow but the number of lifts is still increasing.

MR QUAH ENG HING, secretary of the Singapore Lift & Escalator Contractors & Manufacturers Association.

The basic monthly wage - excluding overtime - is $1,160 to $2,080 for a technician with Institute of Technical Education (ITE) qualifications and $2,060 to $3,690 for a supervisor. For support engineers, the monthly basic salary starts at $2,150.

One of Hitachi's strategies is its tie-up with ITE College East. Since 2012, three to four students from the vertical transportation course have served an internship with Hitachi yearly. There, they learn the basic skills of lift and escalator maintenance, and are attached to full-time technicians to get a taste of the job.

Another initiative is Hitachi's "recommend a friend" scheme, with incentives for employees who do so.

Technician Omar Shamsudin, 28, is one of those recruited by a friend. Previously a dispatch rider, he joined Hitachi two years ago. "I wanted to apply (the knowledge gleaned from) my Higher Nitec in Mechatronics Engineering in my working life," said the ITE graduate. "Since (I was) young, I've been using lifts. Now that I've entered the lift industry, I have the chance to learn how the lift works, its safety functions, and the importance of maintenance work in order to keep the lift in a working and safe operating condition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Lift sector facing shortage of engineers, technicians'. Print Edition | Subscribe