Building the Vessel of Life

Keppel Shipyard is a vibrant and lively place, where workers of different nationalities work on massive vessels that line the quayside. It is here that we meet Thomson Tng, a young man who has found and affirmed his future aboard vessels he has a hand in repairing, converting, and constructing.

By Wendy Ng

Thomson Tng, a project manager in the commercial department of Keppel Shipyard, cuts a striking figure in his white overalls against the backdrop of mammoth structures the likes of Very Large Crude Carriers, Floating Production Storage Offloading vessels and oil tankers.

A green band around his left wrist bears the words “Safety starts with me – Together we care”.

On the band, Thomson explains, “Others always perceive our job as relatively dangerous, but the fact is that we have better safety statistics than other industries. In Keppel, we aim to create an incident-free workplace. This band serves the purpose of reminding us at all times that safety starts with us.”

Answering a calling
Working in the shipyard is a challenging and active experience that highly appealed to the 29-year-old.

“I never liked the thought of office work and desk bound jobs. I’m an outdoor person and enjoy running around and climbing anything I can lay my hands on,” Thomson recalls with a cheeky grin.

After he attained his diploma in Electrical Engineering from Singapore Polytechnic, Thomson started looking for an opportunity to achieve his aspirations.

He found what he was looking for in the Keppel Group Scholarship.

One of the few scholarships on the market that is open to diploma holders, the Keppel Group Scholarship saw Thomson through his university education, enabling him to acquire a degree in Electrical Engineering offered by the National University of Singapore.

“One thing I really like about this scholarship is the grace period they offer before you sign on the dotted line. They put you through a one to two-week attachment so you have an opportunity to acquire a good sense of what you are getting yourself into,” Thomson recounts.

He spent a couple of days in each business unit to better understand the workings of the shipyard.

The attachment only strengthened his conviction and made him certain that his future laid with Keppel.

The journey
Starting out as an Electrical Engineer in Keppel Shipyard in 2007, Thomson flexed his skills at ship repair and ship conversion.

The shipyard’s bi-annual job rotation scheme saw him posted to the operations front as a Project Engineer, in charge of individual vessels checked in for repairs.

Recently posted to the commercial department as Project Manager, Thomson now deals with business development of the shipyard.

“As the project manager for conversion jobs, I must be very well-versed in the market’s movements. In layman’s terms, I’m a salesman to Keppel Shipyard’s clients, who are oil companies and other big offshore companies. We sell the opportunity to work together, so as to get their projects into our shipyard for conversion,” Thomson explains.

“A project can easily cost about $130 million to $150 million. That’s the magnitude of deals we’re talking about,” he elaborates, on the significance of his responsibilities.

The wealth of marine knowledge and hands-on experience he had gained from earlier postings in the operational departments are serving him well in his current role, which requires him to communicate directly with a wide spectrum of marine companies.

In spite of benefits like working in the comfort of an air-conditioned office, a fairer skin tone, and cleaner uniforms, the efficacious man is raring to get back to the front line.

Overarching ambitions
“My current goal is to become a project manager on the operations front. I want to manage a project of a large scale,” Thomson shares excitedly.

Being a scholar has increased his sense of responsibility to deliver value and results that are expected of him.

“I am fortunate to be given more opportunities, so I work hard to prove my worth to the company,” Thomson remarks in all seriousness.

He grabs the initiative to foster ties with people from all walks of life across the company by actively involving himself in ad-hoc project committees and task forces.

This opens avenues for him to hone and showcase his capabilities to senior management, positively contributing to his career advancement.

People matters
“To excel in this industry, you need to be very people oriented,” Thomson expresses. “The jobs here are very labour-intensive. A conversion project can have around 2,000 to 3,000 workers on board the vessel each day. We don’t just deal with machines, steel and iron, we deal with people.”

On the importance of embracing an international mindset, Thomson shared a humorous anecdote on how he got a shock in his first few days on the job when Bangladeshi workers tried to hold his hand.

Through this episode, he not only learnt that hand-holding among Bangladeshi workers symbolises brotherhood and friendship, but also that understanding cultural differences are integral to a harmonious and productive workforce.

“Many of our colleagues and workers come from all over Asia and South East Asia. Similarly, we have a multinational client base from around the world. With such exposure to multi-languages and cultures, we come to adopt a very global mindset and grow in understanding and acceptance of diverse cultures,” he said.

“This scholarship is not for the faint-hearted. If you like outdoor activities, are positive, persevering, and want to know people of multi-cultural backgrounds, then this is the scholarship for you,” Thomson states.

“It is a vibrant and challenging industry where long hours are the norm and the workload is heavy, but the job satisfaction comes with the completion of our projects. It’s like watching a baby being born into the world and beginning her life. That’s the motivation that drives most of us in the company,” he wraps up with a contented smile.

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