SINGAPORE – Environmental sustainability is a hot topic now, but the history of the environmental services sector in Singapore is quite short compared with European countries, Japan or South Korea, says Mr Lim Chin Khuang.
Still, the Republic has made strides in that area, says the managing director of environmental services company Tee Environmental.
“There’s a lot of technology being employed today, a lot of data we can gather to assist the authorities in formulating policies. People are becoming more and more conscious about waste output and ways of recycling,” Mr Lim, 55, an industry veteran of two decades, says. “As a service provider, I have a chance to be very actively involved in working with various parties to help in this push,” he adds.
Mr Lim worked at Sembcorp Environment for 17 years and was senior vice-president before joining Tee Environmental two years ago.
Tee Environmental serves primarily commercial and industrial clients with its more than 400 vehicles and waste containment systems across Singapore. Its services include collecting waste and processing recyclables. It has more than 300 staff in Singapore and operates out of three facilities, including a dedicated recycling plant and an engineering workshop.
Technology – think trucks that alert drivers if they show signs of drowsiness – has improved the industry’s productivity as well as the jobs available, says Mr Lim. For instance, one of the graduate trainees Tee Environmental is hosting under the SGUnited Traineeships programme has been working on electronic marketing and e-commerce, new areas of opportunity for the company.
Mr Lim, who is married with two grown-up children, believes in developing staff. He is working hard to attract mature workers who can groom younger staff and pass on their skills and knowledge. “Besides harnessing new technologies, we should continue to value our staff and frontline workers by developing a career path for them,” he says.
Q: What do you do at work?
A: Broadly speaking, I am responsible for the growth and strategic development of the company, with profit and loss responsibility.
It is mostly an office job, but I meet customers to discuss business, maintain the relationship or develop new areas for collaboration. I also spend time with the operations team to know how they’re doing on the ground.
Q: How much do you earn?
A: A five-figure monthly salary.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue this career?
A: I started in the hotel industry before moving on to the logistics field. I was headhunted to join the environmental management industry.
At that time, I was doing well, already in a management position, so to be very honest with you, the less “glam” image of the industry was a bit of a concern.
But in the end, I was given the assurance that it is a good company and the job involved turning around the business.
I took the challenge believing that I could deliver results. After a few months leading the sales and marketing team, I was upgraded to take over the entire operation.
Over the years, I grew with the company and the job was interesting. We did more environmentally sustainable projects like waste-to-energy, and introduced some of the best practices from around the world to Singapore.
Q: What is your educational background and how have you upgraded your skills along the way?
A: I attained a Master of Management in 2000 from Macquarie University.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in getting to this point in your career? How did you overcome them?
A: Initially, the lack of the business knowledge and technical skills, and not knowing the nuances of daily operations. Introducing changes and getting key people on board to execute improvement plans were not always well received.
So I spent time learning about every aspect of the business, from fleet management to the recycling plant.
That is why I made it a company policy, when you come on board with the company, whatever your role, you should hop up on a truck for at least a day or two, so that you understand what the company does.
Challenges are aplenty in whatever role one assumes. Be prepared to learn, willing to share and earn respect. Having continual conversations with the stake holders, including colleagues, staff and even frontline workers, makes a big difference.
Q: What are the best and worst parts of the job?
A: The best part of the job is helping our customers meet their environmental goals, be it waste minimisation programmes, recycling initiatives, improving hygiene factors or setting up an environmentally sustainable framework within their organisation. It is exciting when you believe in something and you are able to share it with the customer and get their buy-in.
It is also always rewarding to extend the business partnership with customers year after year as it signifies a trusted relationship and a win-win for all parties.
It is often very hard to attract Singaporeans – especially those with stronger formal education – to join the trade. So when we develop career paths for the staff and groom them to take up senior managerial positions, it is doubly rewarding and heart-warming on a personal level.
The worst parts of the job could well be the best parts of it. Every job comes with challenges, so it pays to focus on the “best parts” instead.
Q: What are your tips for people who want to start or grow their careers in this field?
A: Totally ignore the notion that this is an unglamorous industry. It is in fact an essential service. Whatever the state of the economy, environmental management service will still be required.
If you already have a certain understanding of environmental issues, you know when you do the work, you are also doing social good.
It might sound hard to start new in this field or to switch from another industry, but as long as you are prepared to learn and be passionate in your role, you can build a very successful career.
Positions in environmental services
ABOUT THE INDUSTRY
The environmental services industry comprises cleaning, waste management and pest management. It employed close to 74,000 people as at June last year.
Some of the industry’s sustainability efforts include waste-to-energy conversion, biotechnology for food waste treatment and environmentally friendly chemical solutions for pest management.
There were about 1,600 available openings in environmental services as at the end of last month.
Close to 90 per cent of these were jobs, with the rest being traineeships, attachments and training places, said Workforce Singapore and the Ministry of Manpower.
About three out of ten job openings were for professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) roles, such as mechanical design engineer, senior supply chain analyst, data analyst, sales executive and business development executive.
The majority were for rank-and-file positions.
INDICATIVE MONTHLY STARTING SALARY RANGES FOR PMET ROLES
• Operations director / general manager: From $8,000
• Cleaning operations manager: $3,500-$6,000
• Waste recycling manager / waste recovery manager: $4,000-$6,100
• Environment, health and safety manager: $3,400-$7,000
HOW TO JOIN THE SECTOR
• SGUnited Traineeships Programme: company-hosted traineeships for fresh graduates
• SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme: company-hosted attachments for mid-career workers
• Place-and-Train Programme for Cleaning Specialist (Disinfection Services): job placement and training for rank-and-file workers, minimum monthly salary of $2,000
• Professional Conversion Programme for Waste Management Professionals: job placement and training for PMETs without prior work experience in the industry
• Short courses under the Skills Framework for Environmental Services
• National Environment Agency-Industry Scholarship: local scholarship for Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic students
• SkillsFuture Singapore Work-Study Programme: leads to a part-time diploma in applied science (environmental services and management)
Sources: WSG, MOM