Because there were only a few large-scale projects after completion of the Hong Kong International Airport in 1998, many experienced civil engineers either sought opportunities abroad or switched to other fields, says Wilfred Chau, human resources manager at Chun Wo Construction and Engineering.
"Significantly fewer young people have entered the [construction] industry during the past decade," Chau says.
The sudden surge in demand for civil engineers has caused a major shortage of manpower in Hong Kong, and salaries are being driven up by keen competition for the right individuals, he says.
Chun Wo is involved in the Wan Chai Development phase two and Central-Wan Chai Bypass projects, and both require a large number of civil engineers specialising in marine projects, including reclamation, excavation and foundation work. The building of various Hong Kong Island extension lines and the Sha Tin to Central Link by the MTR Corporation, and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link require engineers experienced in tunneling.
Because some projects are at the tendering stage, local construction companies are in need of experienced planners and estimators (quantity surveyors specialising in tendering) who excel in scheduling work with Primavera 6 software, an integrated construction project management system. "The competition is not only from local companies, but from overseas as well," he says. "Companies in Malaysia and Singapore have attracted a lot of experienced Hong Kong tendering planners and estimators."
The estimated value of projects at Chun Wo exceeds HK$13.5 billion. The company is recruiting civil engineers, and tendering planners and estimators. "We have up to 20 openings for engineers," Chau adds. The company is looking for senior civil engineers with a minimum of eight years of experience, preferably chartered engineers who have worked on large infrastructure projects. Chun Wo seeks planners and estimators with more than five years of relevant work experience and who excel in using Primavera 6.
There are two streams of career advancement for senior civil engineers. Those focusing on works can become site agents. However, individuals who focus on engineering can advance to assistant construction manager and then construction manager. Project managers usually require 12 years of experience.
As for professionals in the tendering area, senior estimators have up to 10 years of experience, and assistant estimating managers have 12 to 15 years of experience. Those with nearly 20 years of experience can be considered for the position of estimating manager. Chun Wo requires its planners to become on-site project engineers to help realise their career plans. They will advance to become construction or project managers, Chau says.
The company cultivates future leaders through its "Elite Training Programme", developed for fresh graduates who are committed to a seven-year contract. Participants are rotated among different divisions to familiarise themselves with various operations.
In the first four years, they are given support and focused training to prepare for the chartered engineer examinations under the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers' Scheme A. In the remaining three years, participants can develop their careers based on their personal interests. "As Chun Wo has diversified into property development, the participants can also consider this option," Chau says.
Kelly Ko, a project quantity surveyor, enrolled in the "Elite Training Programme" when she joined Chun Wo in 2005. She has since become a chartered engineer. Ko focuses on financial and contractual issues, and her work involves "communication with clients, subcontractors and consultants. The challenge is to maintain a smooth information flow".