They maintain on average six HDB lifts a day for the last 20 years but residents hardly appreciate their hard work.
On lift maintenance days, some would call town council (in front of the technicians) to complain that lifts are spoilt. Some slam their house doors the moment they spot technicians outside their lifts. Someone even kicked the lift door and startled the technicians working ten floors above him.
But these senior lift technicians from Chevalier whom we spoke to, take it in their stride.
They have so much passion for their work that they want to work for as long as their health allows them to. Patrick Tung turns 58 this December and Zulkifli Yusop, his buddy at work, is currently 52 years old.
They are worried about the next generation.
If the young are not willing to follow their footsteps and continue their legacy, the old would have no lifts to take. Patrick joked that he might have to rely on the stairs in his old age but I could sense his worries each time we broach this subject. It is a matter that he is deeply concerned about.
With so many career choices available for the millennials, why would they consider being a lift technician? It’s perceived to be “dirty, demanding and dangerous”. The job doesn’t pay well too.
New lift technicians with no experience usually earn $1,200-$1,300 a month but if they possess relevant qualifications such as NITEC in facility technology, they will be paid higher than that. Senior lift technicians can earn up to $2,000 a month or more.
Patrick and Zulkifli agree that there is a need to increase salaries in order to attract young local Singaporeans.
According to the Metal Industry Workers’ Union (MIWU), approximately 50 percent of the lift technicians in Singapore are above 50 years old and only slightly more than half the workforce (57 percent) are Singaporeans.
Why did Patrick and Zulkifli choose to remain in this industry for two decades despite the challenges? I decided to follow them on their lift maintenance routine to understand more about this thankless job.
Patrick leads the way to one of the HDB blocks under Sembawang Town Council, carrying his trusty bag of tools on his right and the lift maintenance sign on his left.
Patrick slips a lift maintenance sign in the lift window to inform residents that the lift is currently under maintenance.
However, some would still call town council to complain. He also shares how people use the lifts also affect the quality of lifts as he recalls how some karang gunis would stick cardboards in the lifts to keep the doors open.
There is a manual standard servicing checklist which the lift technicians have to check against after completing lift maintenance works.
While the company currently has no plans to automate this process, Patrick and Zulkifli have no qualms learning new technology if it is more convenient for their work. They attend one in-house training course a year – the last course they attended was on brake adjustment in 2015.
The lift machine room is situated at the roof top of the HDB block and is not accessible to the public. It houses the lift motors and the lift controller which is the “brain” of a lift system. In this room, lift technicians can stop the lifts from operating and diagnose the issues causing lift breakdowns. There will be a machine room for all HDB blocks with old lifts.
For HDB blocks with newer lifts, there are no machine rooms and the lift controllers are integrated within the lifts.
The lift controller – It controls everything to do with the lifts from the travelling speed of the lifts to the level which the lifts will park at when they are stationary.
For most HDBs, one of the lifts will be parked on the top floor while the other will be on the ground floor. When there are lift breakdowns, they will also check the error codes on this controller to diagnose the issue.
These are the lift motors. When the lift is in use, the wheels of these motors will move. When they conduct lift maintenance, they will have to first stop the motors from operating.
The machine room is stuffy and I can’t wait to take a breather outside.
Patrick secures his safety belt before going into the lift car. Safety is not an issue to him as he is very careful at work. He believes lift technicians themselves must put on safety belt and see clearly before climbing into the car lift.
“Safety first”, said Zulkifli.
During lift maintenance works, Patrick and Zulkifli will check if the door is smooth or if there is wear and tear due to the rollers. The door will open and close approximately 100 times a day.
The accident rate is lower if technicians work in pairs as one can keep a lookout for another.
They are safe as long as they are within the lift car in the yellow box. Patrick said that some residents would even “scold dirty words” and shout so loud that they can hear from the top. “But we don’t care lah. You scold, let you scold”.
Sometimes when the lift technicians speak a little louder unintentionally, the residents may think that the technicians are threatening them. To avoid misunderstandings between lift technicians and residents, residents should call the town council directly if there are issues.
On why they would stay in this job for more than 20 years, Patrick said, “don’t know why young guys don’t want to work but this kind of job is very good.”
Zulkifli added that “this type of job is not like F&B or retail. When you install a lift, it is there permanently. We need to maintain the lifts. The job is there. In F&B…sometimes when the restaurant is not doing well, they will close. The lifts will never, never close. The demand is very high you know. First day you go to your house, you face the lift first. You see the lift ok, you also happy.”
On why the young shun this industry, Patrick and Zulkifli think that the job is not glamourous enough. “Nowadays when young people join this industry, they want high pay, want air-con and cannot do dirty work. It is honestly difficult for the company”, explained Patrick.
“Poly student…he almost finished using one packet of tissue. He said eeww Uncle, why so dirty? He was dressed nicely but company gave him uniform. The moment he touched the lift, he started using tissue. When he came for interview, he thought he would be doing office work. He didn’t expect to work in the lift.”
Ken Lim, Assistant Maintenance Manager, elaborated that even if the new generation wants to sit in office to do reporting, they still need to have basic understanding of the lifts – how the lifts operate and how the technicians maintain the lifts or service during breakdowns.
At the end of the lift maintenance, Patrick heads down to the ground floor to remove the lift maintenance sign.
MIWU is trying their best to solve the manpower shortage in the lift industry. They are working with Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and lift companies to look into the possibility of implementing a scheme to place and train lift technicians.
Chevalier will also be taking part in a job fair at e2i this month to hire more workers.
Melvin Yong, the Supervising Lead for NTUC’s Electronics & Precision & Machinery Engineering (EPME) cluster also urged the Government and lift companies in his recent blogpost to provide training scholarships and sponsorship to attract more locals to join the industry.
He also suggested for the unions, Building Construction Authority (BCA) and Singapore Lift & Escalator Contractors & Manufactures Association (SLECMA) to quickly form a sectoral tripartite committee to professionalise the industry. Part of the plans could include a Progressive Wage Model for lift technicians like the cleaning and security industry.
It is the end of my learning journey and I bade goodbye to Patrick and Zulkifli.
Certainly much more must be done to revive this industry and entice the young to step forward as lift technicians.
Either that or we must quickly replace the old HDB lifts with new automated lifts. Or else we might really have to climb stairs when the older lift technicians take their last bow at work and there is no one left to service our lifts.