Mr Chua Ching Hock, 28, enjoyed his internship at Changi Airport so much that he joined Changi Airport Group (CAG) as a permanent employee a year later, after graduating from the National University of Singapore.
His friends were not surprised, since he always used to talk about his internship experience at the airport.
He started off as an assistant airport manager in the Airport Operations Division in 2008. He was part of the Terminal 3 (T3) team and his role was to ensure that various operational aspects of the terminal, which had just opened to the public at that time, were functioning effectively.
He worked first in the arrival and ground transport areas. His duties were subsequently rotated and he had the opportunity to oversee the check-in, signage, security and boarding operations of the terminal as well.
The political science and international relations major says that the initial learning curve was steep. “Airport management is more an art rather than a pure science, and there really is no 100 per cent right or wrong answer. The key is to adopt a positive learning attitude and to be prepared to work hard,” he says.
The pace of work is also very fast. He had to grapple with numerous deadlines, in addition to attending to feedback from passengers and the public. “The public has very high expectations of Changi Airport and rightly so, given that many Singaporeans are proud of their iconic airport and its renowned status,” he says.
But he was able to cope. “Thankfully, my supervisors and colleagues in T3 were exceptionally supportive and guided me through my transitional period from fresh graduate to a managerial role in CAG,” he says.
He was promoted to manager, Terminal 1 (T1), Airport Operations, in October 2010. His current portfolio includes overseeing the T1 upgrading project together with a cross-functional team from CAG.
Besides making sure that the upgrading work does not compromise the standards that travellers and the public have come to expect of the airport, he could also exercise his creativity in proposing new facilities and services to enhance the “wow” factor of the terminal.
“I really enjoyed the nature of the T1 upgrading project, being able to be part of the team working on giving a facelift to our iconic T1 and grand old dame of Changi. It’s not every day that you get a chance to upgrade or build a new airport terminal in Singapore or in any other part of the world,” he says.
He still finds work stimulating after having been on the job for more than three years. “What I like most about working in CAG is that no two days are the same. The dynamism of the company and the industry continuously throws up new challenges and projects, which provide the fuel to keep my fire burning,” he says.
Apart from learning on the job, the organisation provides training and development opportunities. He has attended a two-week course on airport management at the Singapore Aviation Academy.
He has also been on trips which allowed him to network with overseas counterparts and appreciate practices at other airports. In 2010, he was part of a delegation from CAG that attended the Passenger Terminal Expo in Brussels, and last year, he took part in a study trip to Beijing Capital International Airport.
Although there are times when the demands of the job can feel daunting, just knowing that the work is appreciated makes it worthwhile.
Mr Chua recalls one night last year when he had to stay late to oversee the transition of an upgrading phase at the terminal. He was sick with flu and exhausted from dealing with several crises that day.
But close to midnight, he overheard a family of five in the departure hall talking about how they loved the look and feel of the upgraded areas of T1. “Almost instantly, my fatigue vanquished. I felt inspired and energised,” he says.
Another motivating factor is the knowledge that he is part of a top team. “Working in CAG is like playing for a football club like Manchester United or Barcelona,” he says. “You have some of the best talents working alongside and rubbing shoulders with you. This adds a certain competitive element and encourages us to raise our game.”