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Property / Construction

Overseas opportunities challenge professional acumen

by Grace Chan

Joanna Kwok, project quantity surveyor
Gammon Construction Limited
Photo: Nolly Leung

Local quantity surveyors with more than five year's experience are in high demand, but chances go only to those who have what it takes

In spite of the recent decline of large-scale construction projects in Hong Kong, the robust economic growth in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East has resulted in growing demand for quantity surveying professionals.

Joanna Kwok, project quantity surveyor, Gammon Construction Limited, confirms this. Ms Kwok points out that local quantity surveyors are in the best position to grasp such opportunities as long as they are mobile and adaptable.

"International exposure, high efficiency and flexibility help set Hong Kong's quantity surveyors apart from professionals of other countries. This is why construction enterprises from Dubai are eager to lure local quantity surveyors with attractive remuneration packages that are potentially two to three times bigger than those on offer in Hong Kong," she says, noting however that the long working hours are the major drawback as new building projects need to be completed within a short period of time.

Career springboard

The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS) has reciprocal agreements with real estate institutes in Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and China and its members can seek career opportunities in those countries. Foreign companies tend to prefer hiring qualified quantity surveyors, Ms Kwok says, and this can be achieved through the HKIS.

She explains that an HKIS membership is represented by a diploma granted by the HKIS confirming an individual's professional competence.

Before the diploma is granted, quantity surveyors are expected to have obtained at least two years of practical experience. They are also required to submit detailed work reports, pass a written exam and attend an interview.

Having gained membership in the HKIS, Ms Kwok recalls that the written exam was the most challenging; it took eight hours split across two days. "We had to answer four scenario questions, each followed by a number of sub-questions." According to Ms Kwok, the overall pass rate for the written exam is under 20 per cent.

In Ms Kwok's case, the HKIS membership has helped to smooth her career path, and it only took her five years to reach her current position.

Given her outgoing personality, Ms Kwok is an active member of HKIS' Young Surveyors Group. "By organising seminars and social events, I get to know my professional counterparts and learn a lot from their experiences," she says, pointing out that communication skills are as crucial as technical knowledge.

Opportunities abound

According to Ms Kwok, quantity surveyors are the only professionals involved in the whole construction period and their ability to cooperate with work partners is essential. "Our main duties are to calculate and assess building and construction costs as well as to manage contracts, while we also give preliminary cost advice and settle contractual disputes," she says, adding that young graduates may choose to join a developer, contractor or consultancy firm as an initial step into the industry.

For Ms Kwok, she joined Davis Langdon & Seah, one of Hong Kong's biggest consultancy firms, as assistant quantity surveyor in 2003 and was responsible for the Parc Palais building project. "At a junior grade, technical knowledge such as cost measurement is needed more often," Ms Kwok stresses.

A year later, she made a move to leading construction giant Gammon Construction, climbing a step higher as quantity surveyor and was promoted to project quantity surveyor in 2006.

"Consultancy firms work closely with their clients, but for contractors, they pay more attention on profit and cost control," Ms Kwok explains. Looking at the job prospects, she aims to take up a managerial role. "Architects used to be the project manager, however, they're less sensitive to cost control and have little contractual knowledge. For this reason, there's a growing trend for quantity surveyors to take the lead," she says.

She believes demand for quantity surveyors remains strong regardless of the economic cycle. "Most consulting and construction companies have projects all over the world. As a quantity surveying professional, we have to be highly mobile," says Ms Kwok, who rates Singapore top on her list of relocation possibilities. "Both Singapore and Hong Kong follow the British legal system and use English as the communication medium. It's rather easy to adapt," she says.

To prepare for career advancement, Ms Kwok has plans to further her studies in project management or go for an MBA. "Very often we deal with contractual disputes and some quantity surveyors even go for an additional law degree to advance themselves as mediators or arbitrators," Ms Kwok adds.


 

Taken from Career Times 24 October 2008, p. B4

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