Property / Construction

Reaching beyond borders

by Martin Williams

Martin Schulz
regional human resources director
Dragages Hong Kong
Photo: Lewis Wong

Hong Kong's construction industry boasts a wealth of engineering expertise

Professionals in all industries can benefit from working for a company that has a strong local operation, but is also part of a global organisation.

Established more than 50 years ago, Dragages Hong Kong is one such company. With a solid track record in construction and related disciplines, the firm falls under Bouygues Construction, a global construction leader employing in excess of 57,000 people worldwide.

"Most jobs are filled by Hong Kong locals, with some international colleagues contributing their expertise," says Martin Schulz, regional human resources director, Dragages Hong Kong. "Many of our board members are local professionals."

This means that the company offers strong career advancement opportunities for Hong Kong-based engineers. "A number of our current project managers joined the firm at a junior level," Mr Schulz confirms.

Solid training

Dragages Hong Kong seeks out candidates with a strong academic background and recruits about 10 graduate trainees every year. The trainees are rotated through different job functions to gain maximum exposure.

New recruits can expect to spend about five years working in Hong Kong before being considered for overseas assignments, depending on the availability of global openings.

"We expect our project managers to be all-rounders who possess superior skills in management, communications and cost control alongside engineering," stresses Mr Schulz.

In addition to on-site experiences, Dragages Hong Kong also stresses in-house training, regularly bringing in highly experienced international managers, including those from Bouygues Construction's Paris headquarters, to conduct training courses.

Employees attend external training with their international counterparts on an ad-hoc basis. This has the side benefit of providing excellent networking opportunities. Mr Schulz points out that Dragages Hong Kong is flexible regarding individual training. "Employees are encouraged to seek training that fits in with their experience and preferred career paths," he adds.

Global presence

Considering that Dragages Hong Kong's parent company has a corporate portfolio covering more than 80 countries, the firm is an attractive choice for people keen on gaining overseas experience.

"We're in a position to send our experts anywhere in the world and also to bring professionals to Hong Kong, if needs be," says Mr Schulz.

For example, the company will consider bringing tunnel-boring machine (TBM) engineers from elsewhere to help with several tunnel and railway projects. He explains that individual Bouygues Construction operations are known for their particular specialities. A country such as the Philippines currently has many tunnel-boring and blasting experts, while Hong Kong is known for highly skilled civil and building engineers.

Engineers wishing to work overseas can sign up on a long-term basis or go on secondment, perhaps for a year or two. "Candidates should be open to working with people from different cultures. On some projects, team members may hail from as many as 26 different nationalities," Mr Schulz remarks.

While overseas placements broaden engineers' professional experience, the company also expects its engineers to step into the role of ambassadors. The selection process includes assessments of a candidate's mobility, language abilities and skills set.

Hong Kong engineers generally prefer to work in Canada, or in other Asian countries such as Singapore and Thailand.

The company sees international placements as a way to retain staff. "When one project comes to an end, it is always possible to transfer people elsewhere. Alternatively, employees may move between different professions within the group, for example from engineering to finance or business development," Mr Schulz explains.

He conducts monthly videoconferences with the group's human resources team in Paris to discuss staff availability and requirements for projects.

The parent company uses an international system to grade staff across the world, and the database of staff in Asia includes classifications for all engineers, which helps organisations source people with the right skills.

Mr Schulz says that good soft skills are important in public-private partnership projects such as the AsiaWorld-Expo that has boosted Dragages Hong Kong's reputation as a leading industry player.

He is optimistic about the future of Hong Kong's construction industry, particularly in the light of the government's investment in infrastructure development. He expects strong recruitment in civil and building engineering and an increased demand for design and method engineers, specialists in quality and safety and the environment.


Taken from Career Times 28 August 2009, p. A6
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