Due to the suspension of private projects in Hong Kong and the influx of workers returning from Macau, the unemployment rate for construction workers reached double-digits in the first quarter of this year.
However, recent growths in property sales may revitalise private projects, increasing the demand for construction workers by the end of the year, says Conrad Wong, president, the Hong Kong Construction Association.
The unemployment rate also seems to have stabilised in May after the introduction of a number of relief measures by the government. Mr Wong predicts that the demand for such workers will peak in 2011 or 2012, corresponding with government project timeframes.
"The government's investment in the 10 mega infrastructure projects and the launch of a number of small- and medium-sized projects in recent months are expected to give the building and construction industry a boost while attracting budding professionals to the field," he notes. "With a declining number of new recruits to the industry, there is already a shortage of certain categories of specialised construction workers, such as those skilled to operate telescopic tower cranes and handle gunpowder and explosions."
Workers qualified in these areas will be highly sought after and they can be very expensive to hire, he remarks.
Professionals such as engineers, architects, surveyors and valuers will be the first to benefit from the eagerly anticipated boom. "Before the government can kick off the 10 major infrastructure projects, a significant amount of planning, design and valuation work has to be done, so demand for people skilled in these areas has been strong," Mr Wong notes.
The stagnant Hong Kong construction and property market has in recent years driven some professionals to seek opportunities in places such as mainland China, Macau and Dubai.
Over the past decade, only a small number of young graduates have entered the construction industry in Hong Kong, with the majority of them preferring the apparently more lucrative finance sector. This has left many mid- to top-level positions in the building and construction industry vacant.
In view of this, some 59 local building and construction companies recently signed a charter pledging to offer young graduates an annual income of no less than HK$144,000.
"Competent professionals earn a stable and reasonable income. Engineers and architects can earn more than HK$60,000 a month, depending on their experience and acumen," Mr Wong points out. He notes that many experienced professionals apply their expertise in overseas infrastructure and property projects, earning even more attractive remuneration packages.
In addition to monetary rewards, people joining or rejoining the local building and construction industry can expect greater exposure. "The scope and scale of the 10 major infrastructure projects, ranging from tunnels to bridges, may lead to the first peak in the industry since 1997, offering rare opportunity for a new generation of industry professionals," says Mr Wong.
Aside from world-class project management capabilities, Hong Kong industry professionals are also known for their efficiency, integrity, flexibility and diligence. This makes them employees of choice in regions such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
|Francis Lui, professor, department of economics, School of Business and Management, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Wallace Chan
Excellent development opportunities outside Hong Kong mean that there are also promising career prospects in the sector. "The building quality and sophistication of Hong Kong's high-rise buildings speak for themselves, giving local professionals a worldwide reputation," says Francis Lui, professor, department of economics, School of Business and Management, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Professor Lui remarks, "It is common for governments to invest in infrastructure projects to stimulate economic growth during times of recession."
He notes that necessary administrative procedures often create a lag between the announcement and implementation of projects. However, visible projects such as those related to the building of roads, bridges or tunnels will help the government convince the public that they are spending wisely, but the economic efficiency of such spending depends largely on timing.
"As long as the Hong Kong government commences the 10 mega infrastructure projects in a timely fashion, they can ease the unemployment problems in the industry and achieve subsequent economic growth," he says, adding that the actual economic efficiency of the 10 projects should be evaluated individually.
He expands, "This is because the spending on some projects, such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, may be more than earnings generated, while others, such as road and rail projects, may generate higher economic efficiency."
Professor Lui further explains that the relatively short-term negative impact of the global economic downturn will underscore the effectiveness of the government's infrastructural spending. "In instances where an economic downturn is long-lasting, government spending on infrastructure projects may not only be economically inefficient, but also generate a chain of problems such as increasing national debt."
Since the worst of the global recession may be over, the government's investment in huge civil work projects should pay dividends, Professor Lui concludes.
- HR demand expected to peak in 2011 or 2012
- Engineers and architects can earn more than HK$60,000 a month
- Local companies pledge to offer graduates annual minimum incomes of HK$144,000
- 10 major infrastructure projects may lead to first industry peak since 1997