Large-scale construction ventures in parts of the Middle East, Southeast Asia and mainland China have lured many qualified Hong Kong professionals in the building and construction industry to overseas positions.
However, the Hong Kong government's plans to boost the local economy by investing millions of dollars in huge civil works projects is expected to substantially increase the demand for engineers, architects and project managers.
"Although the recent recession in the Hong Kong construction and property market caused an exodus of local talent to places like Macau and Dubai, the government's new scheme should lead to increased recruitment at home, enabling Hong Kong to retain its talented professionals," says Mok Kwok-ho, director and chief engineer, Hip Hing Construction Co Ltd.
Ahead of the launch of major infrastructure projects like the Sha Tin-Central MTR extension line, big contractors are currently reviewing their human resources policies to ensure they have sufficient qualified staff on board.
Hip Hing, part of NWS Holdings Limited, which operates a diversified range of businesses in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland, is recruiting employees for a number of positions, including project managers, site agents, planning engineers and building services engineers.
The company believes that in order to compete with other recruiters it is important to understand what quality employees are looking for in terms of job security, remuneration packages, learning environment and career development.
"Hip Hing's active participation in Macau, the mainland and other Asian countries means that the company can depend on major international projects to help us ride out industry ups and downs in Hong Kong. As we progressively extend our scope of professional services in Dubai and prepare for more local projects, one of our current challenges is to maintain a stable and competent workforce," Mr Mok stresses.
Staff development paramount
Hip Hing has developed a system to help its employees develop the necessary skills to excel in their careers and to groom future leaders for the fast-growing company.
"We regularly ask our project managers to identify potential candidates for promotion. Senior management then assess these candidates to determine the type of training they need," Mr Mok points out.
In one case, it was found that an engineer who performed excellently in civil structure required more experience in cost controlling. The company then facilitated a lateral movement which allowed this engineer to take a position where he could benefit from daily exposure to this part of the job.
In another example, an annual performance review indicated that a certain member of staff demonstrated superior leadership and administration skills and was assistant project manager material. However, an in-depth conversation with the employee revealed that he was not ready to take up management responsibility at that point. He was therefore provided with an opportunity to hone his technical capabilities.
"We are open to discussion about individual career development with all our team members. We believe it is important to listen to our staff, as two-way communication helps to create a happy working environment," Mr Mok adds.
He reflects on an incident where a member of staff who had been offered a better paid job elsewhere approached him for career advice. As a result of this openness, Mr Mok was able to have a closer look at the market and at possible ways to retain the employee.
Alongside the company's existing initiatives to attract, retain and develop people, Hip Hing continuously reviews its talent management policies. The company is currently looking at reinstating a mentoring system which is common within the industry.
In a bid to keep up with increasing industry standards, Hip Hing intends to invest in rising overall staff qualification levels throughout the company.
Employees who do not possess accreditation from higher education institutions are encouraged to embark on extramural programmes to attain professional qualifications.
The company also has a number of positions for fresh graduates in disciplines such as quantity surveying, building technology, structural engineering, building services engineering and project coordinators.
Hip Hing participates in the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers' Graduates Scheme A training programme. The institute sets standards for the training and admission of engineers, and the programme provides registered trainees with the opportunity to integrate theoretical knowledge with the practical skills required to apply that knowledge through hands-on experience and activities.
This "learning by experience" methodology helps trainees to enhance their academic studies through real-life application.