As a boy, his favourite toys were the miniature bulldozers and cranes that his parents bought for him.

So enamoured was he of the toys and of the heavy machinery at various construction sites that he made being a crane operator his ambition.

Now 24, Mr Marcus Chee is one of the youngest crane operators in Singapore, having joined his current company two years ago after his national service.

But before he joined, his parents asked: "Why do you want to get into such a risky career?"

His friends in his diploma in mechanical engineering class also wondered why Mr Chee would want to join the construction industry.

He said: "They have the misconception that this is a low-paying blue-collar job. They don't know that this is a highly-skilled job that commands quite a high pay."

To his parents, he answered: "I'm passionate about it."

Mr Chee is an exception in his industry as there are very few crane operators under the age of 30.

He told The New Paper yesterday: "In this line, there are basically no crane operators of my generation at all."

Mr Chee works for Bok Seng Logistics, one of 30 crane companies that exhibited at the Crane Carnival at the Institute of Technical Education Central yesterday.

The event, attended by some 1,500 visitors, was for job-seekers and people who might have negative impression of the work of crane operators.

It ended with 226 people registering their interest in becoming crane operators, said the event spokesman.

The unattractiveness of the job is part of the reason for crane companies facing a manpower crunch.

Said Mr Michael Ang, chief operating officer of heavy lifting company Tiong Woon Corporation: "Many people think it's not a glamorous job, but that's not true.

"Crane operators are actually one of the highest paid and most skilled professions in the construction industry."

In Mr Ang's company, the starting monthly pay for crane operators is from just below $3,000 and it can go up to $7,000.

LABOUR CRUNCH

Because of the relatively small pool of skilled crane operators, he added that talent poaching is a serious problem in the industry.

Mr Ang said: "A full training cycle for a crane operator to be able to use the heaviest equipment is eight years, which is a long time.

"This can be bad because other companies will use wages to poach people, which is also why crane operators are paid so much."

Of the 200 workers he employs here, most are Singaporeans over 50.

The lack of new blood also means that there are some who are in their 70s and still working, said Mr Ang.