From $1,000 tips to crane controller earning much more

After almost 20 years, restaurant manager Steve Sivakumar has had enough.

Next January, he will give up manning tables to man the controls - as a tower crane operator.

Thanks to the building boom now, the 35-year-old is convinced that it's time to trade his starched shirt and pants for a hard hat and safety boots.

"It's risky switching careers at this age, but I need to get something more stable, so my two children can have a better future in Singapore," he said.

But just how rosy is it in the construction line?

Straits Construction executive director Kenneth Loo said: "When you look at the number of private residential projects in the pipeline, you can see demand's still going strong. The outlook (seems) healthy for the next three to four years. "

This year's total construction demand is projected at up to $34 billion, compared with last year's $30.7 billion, The Straits Times reported on Oct 20.

That translates to more work and more workers needed.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) received more than 1,200 applications within six months of rolling out the Crane Apprenticeship Programme.

The BCA said not everyone could do the crane operator job as they have to be physically fit and not be afraid of heights.

Its spokesman said a new operator's monthly gross pay can reach $4,000 while those with more experience can earn up to $7,000.

That's good news for Mr Sivakumar, whose previous job netted half that sum.

He used to work at a celebrity restaurant, but stopped working there in May last year, after a management change. That meant bidding goodbye to the $1,000-a-tip norm from guests as well.

Now, Mr Sivakumar's monthly pay cheque depends on temporary stints at restaurants and cafes.

His friend Suresh Selvarajoo, 42, left a $2,800 hotel banquet manager post earlier this month, after 26 years in the frontline.

Mr Selvarajoo, who graduated with a hotel management degree from Switzerlandsaid: "The hospitality line has changed and there're more foreigners competing for a limited number of jobs.

"Since F&B is my passion, I'll continue looking for openings while driving a taxi."

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