When Mr Ridhuan Abdullah's father died in an industrial accident while he was in his second year of studying mechanical engineering at Singapore Polytechnic, he suddenly found himself having to support his homemaker mother and two young siblings. He took on part-time jobs and, after joining the army soon after he graduated in 1995, figured his option was to sign on with the Singapore Police Force.
Over the next six years, he rose to the rank of assistant team leader at Queenstown Neighbourhood Police Centre. But he was reluctant to let go of his engineering dreams, so in 2001, when his bond with the SPF ended, he applied for the post of technical officer at Tuas Power Station.
"I was doing quite well in the force, and even got offered the post of Acting Inspector. But I missed engineering and there was an opportunity," said Mr Ridhuan, now 39 and the assistant shift manager at Tuas Power's $2 billion Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex on Jurong Island.
It meant having to "start all over again", he recalled, adding that he would never forget his first day. "I felt overwhelmed when I first saw the big turbines. The first few months were quite tough. I was older than my contemporaries and had to learn a lot," the father of three boys said.
But refusing to let his delayed start be a handicap, he worked hard at learning the ropes from senior staff. After his shift, he would take home his notes, and he tried to keep updated on developments in the industry. It paid off when, in 2005, he was promoted to Technical Officer (higher grade), and, in 2010, to Senior Technical Officer.
Then, when TP Utilities was incorporated in Nov 2009, came the opportunity to work at a new multi-utility complex, which would supply steam, industrial and demineralised water to petrochemical companies in Tembusu, Jurong Island. It would also provide wastewater treatment services and transmit electricity to the national grid.
He wanted in. The problem was most of the other candidates vying for the same position had much more experience. "I thought my chances were quite slim. But I really wanted to work at the new plant and learn about the latest technologies," he said.
The challenges were plenty: the plant was to be the first multi-fuel plant in Singapore to be fired on coal, natural gas, diesel and biomass, and to use the Circulating Fluidised Bed Boiler technology, a more advanced method of combusting coal and biomass to generate steam.
But Tuas' management felt he had the potential and in 2011, brought him on board. He went on training stints in Japan and China, and, when the plant was up and running in August 2012, assumed the role of assistant shift manager of one of the four teams that work in shifts to keep the plant going 24/7.
From the central control room, Mr Ridhuan and his team of six keep a close eye on various aspects of plant operations so the turbines can effectively meet steam demands.
For the last two years, Mr Ridhuan has studied for and received his First Grade Steam Engineer licence, jointly issued by Ministry Of Manpower and Singapore Polytechnic, so he can further expand his job scope. He is especially excited there are still two phases of Tembusu's development to come. When fully completed in 2017, the plant will be able to produce 160 megawatts of electricity and 900 tonnes of steam per hour.
"There are new systems and new processes to become familiar with. It means there is something new to learn every day."
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