The construction industries in developing economies such as those of Vietnam, mainland China, and some countries in Eastern Europe are burgeoning in spite of the global downturn.
"There are plenty of opportunities for Hong Kong architects, particularly for those willing to take their skills abroad," says Dennis Lau, chairman and managing director, Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (HK) Ltd (DLN).
In addition to major building projects in Hong Kong, DLN has been involved with a number of high-rise construction projects in cities across mainland China, as well as in Taiwan, Vietnam, the Middle East, North Korea and Mongolia.
The firm's current mainland China projects include residential buildings, shopping malls, office buildings and hotels, comprising up to half of the firm's business portfolio. Three major projects in Guangzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing are also in the pipeline.
High-rise building construction has always been one of DLN's business strengths. "We have worked on three of Asia's tallest skyscrapers, The Center and Central Plaza in Hong Kong and CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou," Mr Lau points out. "The three new high-rises in China will join the list."
The experience gained from working on a range of major construction projects tends to give Hong Kong architects a professional advantage, says Mr Lau, who is also chairman of the Association of Architectural Practices.
"Since the profession across the border is structured differently to that of Hong Kong, architects there are responsible only for drafting and design, lacking practical constructing experience," he explains. "Hong Kong architects, on the other hand, are able to provide developers with a much sought-after one-stop service."
Some mainland property developers prefer to work with foreign companies and many are attracted to Hong Kong architects' unique "East-meets-West" background, Mr Lau says. "We have the added advantage of understanding Chinese traditions and customs. Importantly, we are sensitive to market needs. Hong Kong's geographical proximity to mainland cities also enables speedy service delivery to Chinese clients."
Another benefit is that Hong Kong architects are used to maximising the "saleable" areas of properties to up to 80 per cent per building.
However, Hong Kong architects do face a number of challenges related to the massive scale of many mainland projects. "Hong Kong projects are like local football league matches, while mainland ones the World Cup," notes Mr Lau. "It is therefore essential, even for experienced Hong Kong professionals, to continue upgrading their industry techniques and knowledge."
The dedicated and extremely diligent mainland architectural workforce continues to improve and will no doubt provide stiff competition for local professionals, Mr Lau predicts.
For this reason, DLN has been keen to support young architects by offering them comprehensive training opportunities as well as invaluable exposure to challenging international projects. The firm has also established its own academy to enhance staff development and groom future leaders.
DLN currently employs more than 100 architects and is looking to recruit five or six committed new graduates with the necessary design and computer-software operation skills. Monthly starting salaries will range between HK$18,000 and HK$21,000, on a par with the market average.
New recruits will undergo a week's induction training and obtain some knowledge of the firm's computer programmes and office procedures. They will also be able to take advantage of free in-house lectures, offered by experienced staff, on aspects of the industry licence examination syllabus.
Four times a year, the firm arranges on-site visits to major construction projects. One such recent weekend visit was to the Grand Lisboa Macau, where 80 DLN staff were briefed on the technical challenges of the projects. With travel expenses and dinner included, the trip also doubled as an enjoyable social event.
Seminars on new building materials and techniques are also regular features on the firm's agenda, helping to keep DLN professionals up to speed with the latest industry knowledge.
There is plenty of scope for promotion, Mr Lau stresses. Fresh graduates start off as assistant architects and may reach director levels within eight to nine years. New graduates need to build a foundation in the first two or three years.
"DLN is renowned as the industry's Shaolin Temple for having trained so many professionals over the past 37 years. Our diverse project portfolio ensures long-term career development within the profession," Mr Lau concludes.