Property / Construction

Return to the employee's market

by Ada Ng

Paul Ho
managing director
Manlink Personnel Consultants Ltd
Photo: Dickie Tam

Large infrastructure projects create demand for engineering expertise

Massive infrastructure projects across Hong Kong have triggered rapid growth in the city's construction industry along with a soaring demand for elite civil engineers.

For these large-scale projects, the government has allocated an annual spend of nearly HK$50 billion for the 2010/2011 budget. On the government's agenda is the world's largest sea-crossing, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Project; the re-designing of the Kai Tai Airport into a major cruise terminal; and the second stage of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS).

Paul Ho, managing director, Manlink Personnel Consultants Ltd, says these have strongly boosted the civil engineering employment market. "Recruitment activities in the sector have significantly gone up since the first quarter this year, as job openings abound for mid- to senior-level engineers and infrastructure specialists," he says.

More encouragingly, Mr Ho notes the upbeat growth is not limited to the government's stimulus infrastructure projects, but it has also been driven by the increasing number of railway-related projects. "We've witnessed at least 20 medium- to large-scale projects awarded and launched by the MTR since July last year and we're expecting another 40 or so in the tendering pipeline. Overseas contractors from Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, Italy, Singapore, Taiwan, and Korea are currently tendering in Hong Kong."

He adds: "All these recently started and potential projects are offering a promising outlook for construction and engineering elites for the years ahead."

New momentum

For engineering professionals, one bright spot is project management. "With these large-scale infrastructure projects already on-site or scheduled to start this year, many contractors are now looking for project managers to plan and execute project plans to meet clients' requirements and changing needs," Mr Ho notes. "Employers are also actively recruiting for positions including cost estimators, planning engineers and design engineers in recent months."

Mr Ho anticipates professionals with tunnelling project experience to be the most coveted since a number of MTR line extension projects are in progress. These include the Shatin to Central Link, the Western Island Line, the South Island Line, the Kwun Tong Line Extension as well as the high speed railway line connecting Kowloon to the China border.

Staffing these major construction and infrastructure programmes is one of the biggest and immediate challenges facing many contractors. Mr Ho is aware that contractors may struggle to find the right calibre of experienced staff as the programmes gather momentum. "As the surge in demand for experienced civil engineers comes all at once, we don't rule out the possibility of seeing a shortage of professionals in the upcoming months," he points out. "It'll be an employee's market, perhaps like what happened in the 90s in Hong Kong, where demand for civil engineers reached a cyclical peak."

He has already noticed some mid-size contractors aggressively poaching staff from competitors in the past few months. Large companies and multinational contractors, however, have provided more internal training and encouraged managers to promote from within. "Most employers also stepped up their investment in graduate trainee programmes, with the hope that they would be able to fill the entry-level positions as well as to equip themselves for the industry's growth momentum."

In addition, contractors are beefing up employees' compensation and fringe benefit packages as a way to draw and retain the best talent.

A noticeable change in the industry, according to Mr Ho, is the employers' emphasis on work-life balance. "Many contractors now offer a Saturday shift duty schedule to minimise the on-site working hours for staff," he says.

Greater expectations

While a strong technical background, professional qualification and relevant project experience are essential, Mr Ho says contractors have increasingly perceived job commitment as the top attribute they value. To demonstrate this, jobseekers will need to have a steady career history with distinguished project achievement records. "These are always good indicators of how committed, accountable and self-driven jobseekers will be in their new job," he stresses.

Engineers and project managers are required to work in tandem with in-house teams, project stakeholders and consultants. This requires good problem solving and interpersonal skills, says Mr Ho. He remarks that project managers also need strong business savvy and communication skills when reviewing and converting user requirements to engineering parameters for everyone involved.

Taken from Career Times 18 June 2010, B2

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