Hong Kong's construction industry is regarded as one of the sectors least affected by the global recession. One reason for this is the government's strong support for infrastructure development.
While some contractors continue to recruit junior staff, there is a particular demand for experienced engineers skilled in planning and project management. Such professionals, with 15 or more years' industry experience, can earn a monthly salary up to HK$90,000.
"Contractors need project managers for construction projects of all scales and they recruit way before a project commences," says Paul Ho, managing director, Manlink Personnel Consultants Ltd. "It seems that many contractors are still seeking out the best-qualified and most experienced chartered engineers to run their projects."
The industry has, by and large, not fallen prey to pay cuts and layoffs. "While there have been some individual redundancies, we haven't noticed a wider trend towards layoffs," Mr Ho says, adding that retaining quality engineers remains a priority for most companies.
He believes that employment opportunities and career prospects will grow in the industry over the next five years, with many construction projects taking off in the public and private sectors.
One body that is currently recruiting is the West Kowloon Cultural District office. It is targeting experienced engineers in particular, notes Mr Ho. The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, one of Hong Kong's 10 new infrastructure projects, will also create more than 5,000 new jobs over the next four to five years.
The government estimates that a total of HK$39.3 billion will be spent on infrastructure projects in the 2009/2010 fiscal year. This will have a considerable "spill-over effect", says Mr Ho, explaining that every project creates job opportunities for consultancy companies and contractors. This leads to an increased demand for civil, structural, electrical and mechanical engineers on different levels of seniority.
"Private companies such as Mass Transit Railway Corporation, Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park Hong Kong are also undergoing large-scale extension projects," he adds.
There are also plenty of opportunities outside Hong Kong, for example in the Middle East, South Africa, South America and mainland China. "Some employers in the Middle East tend to prefer Chinese engineers, and Chinese contractors already have a strong foothold in the region," Mr Ho states.
In line with the mainland's South-South diplomatic policy, China is also involved in major reconstruction projects in developing countries such as Africa, Venezuela and Brazil. This has led to an ongoing demand for Chinese chartered engineers.
"Since Hong Kong engineers tend to have an international outlook and stronger English skills, they have comparative advantages over engineers from the mainland," says Mr Ho. "Engineering contracts in Hong Kong comply with international standards, and many chartered engineers are members of professional engineering bodies such as the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. Mainland China still lags behind in this regard."
Many Hong Kong engineers' experience on international projects also sets them apart from their peers across the border.
Mr Ho cautions however that as the engineering profession develops on the mainland, Hong Kong professionals are starting to lose their advantage. He cites a recent example where a Dubai construction firm appointed Manlink to recruit engineering graduates from the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou.
"Although Hong Kong graduates have more international exposure, the Dubai firm preferred mainland graduates, believing that they are less prone to job-hopping. Also, mainland professionals are used to leaving their hometown for work or studies, while Hong Kong people are less keen to work overseas," Mr Ho points out.
He adds that he was impressed by some of the mainland graduates' English writing skills during the recruitment process, which involved a face-to-face interview conducted in English, as well as two written tests in English. He advises local engineering graduates to grab every opportunity, and to develop a sense of job ownership and loyalty to their employers.
"Since it's currently an employer's market, working conditions will be tougher for fresh graduates this year. Starting salaries may also be lower," Mr Ho remarks. "Newcomers should focus on brighter prospects further down the line. They should take their opportunities, work hard to polish their skills and gain hands-on experience."
Monthly salaries for junior and senior engineers remain stable at HK$10,000 and HK$30,000 respectively, Mr Ho adds. He advises engineers who are currently on overseas contracts to complete their projects before returning to Hong Kong. "Terminating contracts early will make a bad impression on international employers," he warns.