Hong Kong's magnificent skyline bears testimony to the talents and creativity of countless architects who utilise space and technology effectively and efficiency. With the economy booming, and strong demands from mainland China, Macau, India, and South East Asia, the employment outlook for architects from Hong Kong could not have been better.
An architect is a professional who plans, designs and maintains quality control of a building so that it is safe, secure, and sustainable. The diversity of the profession requires further categorisation of distinct or sometimes overlapping roles as design architects, project architects, or resident architects. Simply put, a design architect designs the form and function of the building, a project architect delivers it and a resident architect maintains it.
"Entry level professionals would typically have spent three to five years getting an architecture degree from a university before embarking on a career as an architect. They need to get sufficient and relevant project experience and obtain a master's degree before they could be registered as professionally qualified architect, which happens when they attain the authorised professional (AP) certification," notes John Lam, recruitment team leader at NES Overseas HK Ltd, a global company that specialises in technical recruiting and staffing solutions. "By then, they would be in their early thirties."
While the process may seem long and tedious to the laymen, Mr Lam adds that architecture graduates are in general enthusiastic and passionate about their jobs and their careers and would not mind the time and process.
According to Mr Lam, there are currently a lot of opportunities for architects to fulfil their passions and to get the right exposure locally, over the boarder or in Macau.
Building owners and operators, particularly hotels, want to have an exterior design that is unique enough to attract attention, and an interior design that delivers excellent lodging experience. It therefore stretches the scope for creativity and it is not unusual to see competing developments trying to outdo one another with a superior design that is functional, artistic and structurally sound. That kind of work keeps architects energised and engaged.
"Successful architects are driven by passion. They want to create something useful, something memorable, something that pleases them and admired by people around them," Mr Lam remarks.
Given the current shortage of architects, companies and headhunters are always on the lookout for people with the relevant technical, design and maintenance experience. Therefore, companies that wish to keep their talents are furnishing top-notch architects with interesting projects, exposure to new challenges and an attractive remuneration package.
A fresh graduate could earn between HK$18,000 to HK$20,000 in monthly salary. Companies are also giving away gratuity at the end of a project to ensure their talents stay with them all through the project. These strategies appear to be working, as the turnover rate among architects is relatively low.
"The turnover rate in the industry is between 10 to 15 per cent. Good architects are hard to find. They are not in the job market searching for opportunities. Companies, headhunters and industry practitioners have go all out to look for them," Mr Lam says.
As part of their career progression, younger professionals should start building their job portfolios to showcase the scope and variety of work experience.
Besides strong technical skills and a creative mind, an architect need to have excellent written and oral communication skills to pitch his design concepts to his audience.
"Sometimes the audience may not be able to see the merits of the design just by looking at pictures and models. They need to be told the uniqueness of the design," Mr Lam says. "An architect needs to understand the customers, and that means that an understanding of feng-shui principles does not hurt, because that could be something on the building owner's mind."
Given the specific skills that an architect possesses, a career shift is highly possible. Many branch into interior design, where their education, knowledge and experience as architects are a bonus. "They understand the structural architecture of the building, and would take that into consideration in the interior design," Mr Lam says. Their technical knowledge and an artistic flaire for design would help them provide interior designs that are conductive to people living and working in it. "Architects are spoilt for choice in this market," he concludes.