Property / Construction

Macau remade by construction boom

by Ella Lee

Philco Wong, executive director, Gammon Construction Limited

Industry professionals in Hong Kong should be ready to try their luck in Macau

While the local property development and construction business may be experiencing a prolonged slowdown, the sector is still seeing robust growth in Macau and cities in mainland China. Not surprisingly, this has caused industry professionals and those with appropriate experience to look beyond Hong Kong for steadier jobs and more promising career opportunities.

Philco Wong, executive director of Gammon Construction Limited, does not expect the construction business in Hong Kong to return to anything like its previous heights, when annual investment was as much as HK$100 billion. He points out that, in recent years, the market has plummeted by 30 to 35 per cent from those levels. Both government and commercial projects have been scaled back or postponed indefinitely, meaning the sector has had to rely more on projects such as construction for the MTR and KCRC as the major source of income. "Still, this is often only additional work from existing clients rather than capital investment in new construction," Mr Wong says.

In contrast, Macau is seeing rapid development in building and infrastructure projects. Confirmed capital expenditure has increased from HK$2 billion to over HK$10 billion in just a few years and, according to Mr Wong, demand is mainly from the private sector and driven by the growth in tourism. "These projects are related to establishment of hotels, casinos, convention centres and other recreational facilities," he explains.

Gammon is currently working on a contract to construct the Venetian Macao hotel tower, a significant part of the Venetian Macao casino resort hotel complex. The whole project will cover a gross floor area of approximately 350,000 square metres and include a six-level podium, about 3,000 hotel rooms and suites, and a signature 32-storey tower. The project is valued at HK$2.6 billion and is Gammon's largest ever building contract.

Medium-term forecast

Mr Wong predicts that Macau's construction boom will continue for at least the next three years, creating constant demand for suitably qualified professionals and skilled workers. He says that Macau's own labour resources will clearly be insufficient, since Gammon's project alone will require a workforce of nearly 2,500 during the peak construction period. Because of this, the company has already transferred 60 to 70 people from Hong Kong. More will be needed and the company is looking for experienced senior managers plus junior staff and fresh graduates who are prepared to relocate. He expects that, during the course of the project, there will be openings for architects, engineers, surveyors, project managers and coordinators, and labourers.

Because of geographical proximity and their knowledge of similar work and living conditions, any Hong Kong-trained professionals who apply will have a definite advantage. Mr Wong explains that international exposure, experience in working with world-class companies, and the ability to cooperate with on-site partners will also set them apart. However, it is still necessary to adapt to local practices and the working environment in Macau. "The challenges are not so much about technical know-how, but in learning different work procedures," Mr Wong says. From the management point of view, there is the issue of getting people from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China to work together effectively and maintain the same standards of professionalism and workmanship.

For most positions, the salaries available in Macau generally match those offered for similar posts in Hong Kong. While Gammon does not grant expatriate terms for anyone relocating, the company does give a fixed allowance to cover extra cost of living and travelling expenses. Mr Wong forecasts there may be pressure for salary increases in future due to keener competition for talent and skilled labour.

Tourist effect

While the current construction boom in Macau is focused on tourist-related projects such as hotels, casinos, entertainment venues and transportation, long-term prospects will depend on the regional and global economies. "It will ultimately be subject to fluctuations in the worldwide economy, which will have a significant influence on tourism," says Mr Wong. Nevertheless, he thinks there will be a form of chain reaction. With more tourist arrivals, the local population will grow, which will lead to new construction for improved infrastructure, as well as more commercial and residential units.

Mr Wong says this may also involve more investment from the Macau government and notes that the building of the second ferry terminal will start later this year.

His advice to those looking for opportunities for long-term career development in Macau is to learn as much as they can about the construction of tourist facilities. He also mentions that, nowadays, any engineer or construction professional should be prepared to travel or relocate in order to find the best job opportunities and accumulate relevant industry knowledge. Having previously worked in Canada, China , Taiwan and Hong Kong, Mr Wong clearly speaks from experience. "It is inevitable that we will have to look outside Hong Kong. We have been very lucky in the past with so many local projects, but things are changing now," he says.

Fortune smiles

  • Macau's tourist boom is going hand in hand with a surge in new construction projects
  • There are many opportunities for Hong Kong-trained professionals in all areas related to construction
  • Employers look for international experience and the ability to adapt to local conditions
  • Job prospects are regarded as good for at least the next three years
  • Salary levels compare favourably with those in Hong Kong and extra allowances are usually available for people who relocate

Taken from Career Times 15 July 2005
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