There may be tales of economic woe, but Hong Kong's construction industry is right at the start of a really big growth phase.
This is the view of Julian Rzesniowiecki, general manager — human resources, Leighton Asia Limited.
"The future looks bright for engineers and others seeking work in the construction industry," Mr Rzesniowiecki notes. "There are quite a number of civil infrastructure projects on the drawing board and some people believe that the construction industry will be bigger than it was during the airport construction."
Among the upcoming projects are those for the MTR and the Drainage Services Department. A civil engineering project specialist, Leighton naturally expects to pick up some of the contracts on offer and will subsequently require a larger workforce to deliver the projects.
In fact, Leighton has already enjoyed a good start to the year, particularly since the company has been highly active in Macau, helping to construct casinos and other buildings in a multitude of styles and sizes. The company recently commenced new projects, such as the Drainage Services Department's drainage tunnels at Lai Chi Kok, and was awarded the contract for the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme.
Leighton was among the 59 companies that signed a minimum salary charter earlier in May, pledging to offer fresh graduates in building and construction and engineering an annual income of no less than HK$144,000.
"We pay above the industry average, and have a policy of paying in the top quartile in markets in which we operate," says Mr Rzesniowiecki. This policy supports aspiring graduates and encourages them to sign on with Leighton.
"We'll employ more than 20 graduates, including civil engineers, quality surveyors, and people to work in safety, environment, human resources, and finance," says Mr Rzesniowiecki. "We are still looking for good engineering graduates and quality surveyors — they seem to be in short supply."
A wide array of skills in civil engineering are transferrable, and Leighton looks to give graduates the exposure that can equip them for greater responsibilities, subsequently achieving more senior positions.
Mr Rzesniowiecki adds, "We employ more than 6,000 people in Asia for major projects in Hong Kong, Macau, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Mongolia, and Vietnam. We like to offer staff the opportunities to move around, not only between disciplines, but also between locations."
In view of the competition for high potential employees across major industries, Mr Rzesniowiecki and his colleagues visit universities, where they give talks and presentations to attract graduates for the company's graduate development programmes.
"This gives them an opportunity to meet us and understand what we offer," he says.
Doing so also helps young graduates to confirm their aspirations. "When interviewing graduates, we try and find out what kind of activities they have undertaken in university, and try to form a picture of the sort of person they are, how they might work in a team," Mr Rzesniowiecki explains.
He observes that the younger generation tends to enjoy higher mobility. "They move around and have a number of careers in their working life," he says. "We take this into account, and figure out how to keep them working for us."
A review process is among the ways Leighton identifies top talent within the company. Managers sit with employees, assess how they are developing, and provide feedback.
Although there are some training in the classroom setting, Leighton also leverages valuable on-site experiences. Training caters to specific needs, focusing on the competencies that individuals require in order to advance to the next levels in their careers.
Previously, experienced Leighton staff used to impart specific knowledge on an ad-hoc, informal basis. To facilitate more effective knowledge transfer, the company has recently kicked off a mentoring scheme. Mr Rzesniowiecki explains, "We have identified young professionals who would benefit, and people who have substantial experience to share."
To boost academic competence, Leighton also offers an international master's degree in project management, through the University of New South Wales in Australia. Mr Rzesniowiecki says the qualification is highly recognised within and outside Leighton.
Training and opportunities to transfer between projects and businesses make people more employable inside and outside Leighton. Even if people do leave, Mr Rzesniowiecki says they try to ensure they remain on good terms: "They may come back, for different projects, different roles. There is some fluidity in the industry, and projects ebb and flow."