Growing Up in a Career with Changi Airport

Being in an airport can be quite stressful – with the long queues at the immigration counters to the seemingly never-ending custom checks.

But in Singapore, there is a team of people who make the experience enjoyable for those who walk through Changi Airport’s gates. One of them is Eileen Oh, 40, who has been working there for 13 years.

When Eileen started working with the airport’s management team in 2006, Terminal 3 was still under construction. It was up to Eileen and her team of colleagues to plan for the facilities and services that we find in the terminal today.

Back then, Changi Airport was still under the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. Today, it’s corporatised under the Changi Airport Group.

“The building was empty. It was all cement. When I joined, work had also stopped for a while because of the SARS outbreak. As a team, we had to think about what facilities we needed, where we should place them, and how to design them,” she said.

Planning was done to the minute details such as the channels to show at the TV lounges, and the kinds of seats to be placed at various parts of the terminal.

First Change

After six months of joining the company, Eileen saw herself in the quality service management team, helping to ensure a consistent service level for passengers across the airport. She was later involved in the procurement of services for Terminal 3.

“In the early stages, I was involved in the calling of contracts for the various contractors. From the carpark operators to the cleaning contractors to the buying of trolleys for the airport – all these needed to be procured,” she said.

One of the main highlights of both Eileen’s career and Terminal 3 is the Butterfly Garden. But the idea came as an afterthought.

“Where it is situated now was only meant to be an outdoor smoking area. The idea for the garden came from my ex-boss. I worked with him to bring it to life. We had to bring in a lot of experts in wildlife, horticulture, and gardening to make it happen,” she said.

No one knew if the new terminal would be a success since the format of operations in Terminal 3 was very different from Terminals 1 and 2.

That was why Changi Airport ran trials that involved hundreds of volunteers trying out the facilities a whole six months before the terminal officially opened.

The outcome of all the hard work – world-class services paired with world-class experiences. This had undoubtedly contributed to Changi Airport’s rating as one of the world’s best airports.

Care for Employees

In her 13 years with the airport, Eileen has seen her roles and responsibilities at home and work change.

It was during her time working at Changi Airport that she got married and where she became a mother. Her child is now 11 years old.

She has also risen the ranks and is now an associate director of talent acquisition and workplace, after switching to a human resource role in 2012.

“Over the years, I’ve had a lot of support from my bosses and my peers. I have never felt that I am forced to stay back to work late. Everyone is understanding and supportive of each other. They’ve allowed me to have work-life balance. If I couldn’t integrate work-life balance, I don’t think I would have been able to stay for so long in this company,” she said.

Now, as an HR practitioner, she still believes work-life balance should be made available for employees.

Hopes for the Airport

Eileen hopes to see Singapore’s Changi Airport continue to shine in the eyes of the world.

“If you look at the best airports around the world, many of them are new ones. But in Singapore, we don’t have the luxury of building a new airport. We only have one.

“For us, our airport will always be in Changi, and we can only upgrade it. We can’t tear it down and build a new one. And that is the challenge. But despite this, I am proud to say that although we’re an old airport, we are still placed at the top,” she said.

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