Manbir Bharj was 20 when he first set his sights on a tower crane. Twelve years on, he is close to realizing his dream of becoming an operator.
But the climb hasn’t been easy.
“It started with my father because my father does the trades. When I got my truck licence, my father bought a crane truck to expand his business,” Bharj said.
The crane was used in the installation of air-conditioning units.
“He didn’t have to pay crane companies X amount of money for the installation.”
Bharj learned his basic crane skills from Durham College before taking a full-fledged course at the Ontario College of Trades. From there, he received the 339A Hoisting Engineer certification, which allowed him to work as a mobile crane operator.
He is now pursuing the top licence, the 339B, via apprenticeship at his employer.
“This one only takes me about two years to complete, but I cut that in half because I already have my A and C licences,” Bharj said.
“I will get grandfathered… Basically, I have a total of 7,000 hours and this one requires 6,000 hours or three years of apprenticeship.”
Just a few people from the South Asian community have managed to enter the highly competitive crane-operations industry in Ontario. Bharj believes the reason for such a low penetration is the lack of awareness about the industry as well as too much focus on trucking.
“I am, in a small way, trying to promote the trade to all.”– Manbir Bharj.
“I am, in a small way, trying to promote the trade to all,” Bharj said, adding that the remuneration is good.
“Pay can range anywhere from $45 to $63 an hour depending on your skill. That is non-union, and if you’re member of the union, the pay starts at $61.”
He also said the industry has a good safety record because of advances in crane technology and the imposition of strict regulations by the authorities.
In Ontario, training was made mandatory in 1978, and a few years later different categories of certification were introduced, sharply reducing risks of accidents.
The crane operators are members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793. The union, which represents close to 15,000 crane and heavy equipment operators in Ontario, celebrated its 100th birthday in December.
One of Bharj’s most exciting assignments was in Port Colborne, about 30 kilometers south of Niagara Falls, Ont.
Each winter, the city places barriers known as stop locks at Lock 8 of Welland Canal to hold the water back for maintenance work.
The stop locks are then removed ahead of spring and stored until the following winter. In March 2019, Bharj’s employer won the contract for that.
“I was working on a bridge in two-lane traffic, where they had one lane shut down. But when I had to lift the load out of the water, they had to shut the entire bridge down for me to do that for safety reason.”
The operation was over in a day, but the excitement of a job well done lasted much longer.
Crane operation is not for everyone, though, Bharj said.
Many people have difficulty adjusting to the job requirements, which could have a heavy toll on health and relationships, he said.
Bharj is an avid motorcycle enthusiast, and the proud owner of a limited-edition Kawasaki ZX14 Ninja, which set him back more than $25,000.
“I got the last one in Canada. No. 30 of 30 and Kawasaki has got No. 1”
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