Macau's steady transformation into the Las Vegas of Asia has seen a host of casinos, hotels and entertainment venues going up in the last few years. This has triggered a long-running construction boom and created demand for thousands of construction industry professionals needed to plan and complete the individual projects.
Macau's own population of 448,000 can't supply sufficient talent, even though eight to 10 per cent of the 220,000 strong local workforce is already employed in the construction field.
According to Mike Tang, senior recruitment consultant for NES Overseas Hong Kong Ltd, project managers are most in demand and Macau employers are looking to hire in Hong Kong.
"Competition is so intense that, in some cases, employers are prepared to offer the right candidate a salary increase of more than 40 per cent to relocate," he says. "This can mean in the region of HK$5,000 to HK$10,000 extra per month, so Hong Kong firms are understandably concerned about losing their best project managers to Macau."
All of these infrastructure projects require complex coordination and management skills
Any disruption to work, which causes deadlines to be missed, can mean substantial financial penalties for contractors. Therefore, they prefer to pay more to get the right people. This helps to ensure that projects run as smoothly as possible and that the risk of major losses, in terms of money and reputation, is averted.
The kind of high-end construction projects now going up in Macau include world-class gaming resorts, deluxe hotels and luxury residential developments. The work requires professionals not just with a high level of technical skills and experience, but also a real sense of aesthetics. "It is not surprising that the most sought-after managers are those with hands-on experience with prestigious projects such as Hong Kong's International Finance Centre and the Disneyland Resort," Mr Tang says.
He points out, though, that Macau's building boom also extends to large-scale reclamation and infrastructure. For example, the Cotai Masterplan Development is a 620-hectare project being built on reclaimed land between the islands of Taipa and Coloane and will become a self-contained "city" with its own schools, hospitals, cultural venues and infrastructure facilities.
A light rail system is also being discussed, along with the ambitious Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. "All of these infrastructure projects require complex coordination and management skills, which managers from Hong Kong are well equipped to provide," says Mr Tang.
Prospective employers are looking for candidates with preferably 10 years of solid work experience plus academic credentials such as a building or civil engineering degree. "Specifically, the emphasis is on how well candidates can solve the sort of problems that arise in the course of day-to-day work," says Mr Tang. These qualities are tested during the interview process with questions about various possible scenarios.
"Project managers lead teams, so they must have good planning and organisation skills and be able to coordinate things effectively with clients, colleagues, subcontractors and vendors," says Mr Tang.
In Macau, construction firms prefer to keep their core project teams small and streamlined. They then subcontract the majority of on-site work to third-party operators, who require clear instructions and close supervision.
"Despite Hong Kong's reputation for speed, project managers who relocate to Macau must be mentally attuned to a much faster pace of work, given the frenetic nature of the gaming and construction boom there," Mr Tang says.