TOILING under the sun for 10 hours a day, six days a week is work that most young Singaporeans would shun. But not Mr Willie Tan, 25, an assistant mechanical and electrical engineer at Kimly Construction.
'I get satisfaction seeing buildings being constructed, and that I played a part in it,' said Mr Tan of his industry choice. 'An office job is boring.'
For Mr Jerry Lee, 27, a safety officer at Swee Hong Engineering Construction, spending at least two hours a day, five-and-a-half days a week, inspecting construction sites is the norm. He starts work at 8am and usually finishes at 5pm, but can stay past midnight when emergency situations crop up on site.
'Other young people like to join the financial sector, but not me. I like more technical work,' said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee and Mr Tan, however, are but a small number of Singaporeans below 30 who have chosen to join the construction industry. Many of their peers are put off by the less than glamorous job scope, which requires them to work long hours in hot and dusty conditions.
A 2010 manpower survey by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) on the 25,000-strong local workforce on site shows that of those within the tradesmen or foremen and supervisory levels, only about a fifth - or 5,000 workers - are below the age of 30.
Construction companies The Straits Times spoke to say they are having trouble attracting young, local talent to the industry, despite a steady supply of projects lined up for this year and the next few years.
The manpower challenge was also highlighted earlier this month by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, at a seminar organised by the BCA and the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore.
The situation is cause for concern, given that about half of the workforce is set to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. As such, construction companies are taking steps to attract younger talent.
Swee Hong Engineering Construction is incorporating technology into its business.
'When the company is tech-savvy, it helps to attract more talent,' said its assistant director Kenneth Lim, 37.
For example, it developed its own iPhone applications to help staff manage projects and carry out and track tasks remotely. It also adopted 3-D Building Information Modelling software, which uses graphics and other technology to carry out pre-project modelling of construction projects, cutting down time spent outdoors.
At Unison Construction, the company made efforts to provide its staff with a more conducive work environment, such as reusing and recycling of demolition materials, and installing noise barriers at its construction sites to reduce noise pollution. Last year, it won the BCA's Green and Gracious Builder status, given to builders who adopt environmentally friendly practices.
Its director Tan Soon Kian, 51, is convinced that a better working environment will attract the new generation of workers.
On its part, BCA offers two scholarships for university and polytechnic students, as well as an apprenticeship for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students to encourage them to join the industry.
Remuneration packages are also getting better. Industry players say that an engineer fresh out of school at a construction company can earn about $3,000 a month, compared with a newly graduated accountant in the same firm, who may earn $2,600.
'The engineers are paid more as they have to work under the sun,' said Mr Neo Tiam Boon, 49, group CEO and executive director of TA Corporation, a construction and property firm.
Engineers can progress to project manager roles in about six years, with a salary of at least $7,000.
But the long hours and unfavourable working environment remain a main stumbling block to attracting younger workers, said Mr Neo.
Added Mr Philip Seah, 43, project director at Kimly Construction: 'Construction is still seen as an old-fashioned industry. You get dirty, sweaty and there is a lot of hard labour.'
He has had workers who quit two days into the job after finding it a hard slog.
While older staff bring experience to the workplace and can help mentor co-workers, the value of also having younger workers is not lost on Mr Neo.
He noted that younger staff are very keen to learn and are full of drive and energy, adding: 'They bring along with them new ideas and concepts. Their level of creativity and innovation is better compared to older staff, who may have become too complacent and reluctant to improve.'