Property / Construction

Solid brand built on human capital

by Grace Chan

Edmond Lai (right)
director, human resources
Rock Mak, assistant engineer
Gammon Construction Limited
Photo: Dickie Tam

Construction market leader considers staff development vital to long-term business growth

When every company is fighting for top-tier talent, it takes more than attractive compensation packages to be considered an employer of choice. Graduates these days, in particular, also expect their future employers to invest in their professional development.

"We strive to attract the best candidates, and to engage and develop them in the long term, while growing our business," says Edmond Lai, director, human resources, Gammon Construction Limited. "Construction is all about people."

In response to the government's launch of 10 major new infrastructure projects, construction companies have been vying to recruit newly qualified engineers. Gammon for instance has hired more than 200 new graduates over the past three years.

Global graduate careers and research firm GTI Media last year named the firm as one of Hong Kong's most sought-after employers in its 100 Leading Graduate Employers 2010 survey. The same poll ranked Gammon as the top preferred employer in the engineering services sector.

Early exposure

As part of its commitment to grooming future engineers, Gammon in 2003 launched an educational venture, the Gammon Academy. "Although the market was stagnant after the SARS outbreak that year, we saw it as the right time to step up investment in staff training and development," Mr Lai explains. He adds that the academy's organisational structure is similar to that of a university, with the chief operating officer acting as vice chancellor and senior managers from various business units as faculty heads.

"Every year, we offer about 150 programmes targeting specific learning needs in different professional streams," he says. "More than 90 per cent of the programmes are taught by our own staff members, and they review the curriculum annually to ensure it remains relevant."

Since 2002, Gammon has been running a one-year fellowship programme for selected final-year university students who go on various site visits, and benefit from an eight-week summer training programme designed to provide them with practical work experience and a deeper understanding of the construction industry.

"Fellows enjoy priority for full-time positions once they graduate, but they're not obliged to join us," says Mr Lai. "Our primary objective is to attract young talent to the profession and to provide them with early work exposure."

Heavy investment

A job in the engineering profession is tough but rewarding, considering especially the stringent qualification process. For this reason, Gammon purpose-built a three-year graduate training programme to expose young engineering and quantity surveying graduates to a range of projects, helping them to work towards professional qualifications such as those administered by The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Rock Mak, currently a Gammon assistant engineer, joined the company's graduate training programme immediately after obtaining his civil engineering degree from The University of Hong Kong in 2009. He describes the initiative as "well-structured, diversified and inspirational" and adds that he has been given a clear career roadmap and myriad opportunities to realise his goals.

Mr Mak has been involved in blasting work for a tunnel that forms part of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) Stage 2A. "The learning curve has been steep and I've been given the opportunity to master blasting techniques for tunnels, which were not covered in the university's curriculum," he notes. "The experience has greatly expanded my skills and industry knowledge."

He points out that it has been helpful to have a senior engineer assigned as his supervisor. "He meets with me regularly and guides me along the career track," Mr Mak remarks.

Essential qualities

Soft skills are a key factor determining career success for engineers, stresses Mr Lai. "New graduates tend to be almost uniform in terms of technical knowledge, qualifications and experience, so it is interpersonal, communication and problem-solving skills that set the high achievers apart."

The company aims to identify the best talent right from the start at the first job interview. "Job candidates are tasked with group projects that reflect their personal attributes and core competencies such as teamwork, leadership, organisational and problem-solving skills," says Mr Lai.

He stresses that young employees can rest easy with access to an array of soft-skills training. "Young engineers are encouraged to participate in networking activities both within and outside the company since a strong people network is also vital for career success in this profession." The company's drive for sustainability comprises a comprehensive training schedule, with senior staff assigned as coaches to help budding individuals mature and achieve their career goals.

Quest for talent

  • Talent development a business priority
  • Recruitment activities measure prospective employees' personality traits and competence
  • Coaching and exposure help build career success

Taken from Career Times 4 March 2011, B2

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