Despite construction slowing in the region, the regional outlook for the sector remains bright – especially for project directors |
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Despite construction slowing in the region, the regional outlook for the sector remains bright – especially for project directors

Published on Saturday, 27 Feb 2016
New planned cities like Lavasa in western India – which is stylistically based on an Italian town – are continuing to drive demand for construction talent in Asia. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Alain Deniau is a partner at Heidrick & Struggles Hong Kong, and is a member of the firm’s CEO and board of directors practice and industrial practice.

There is mixed sentiment regarding the outlook for the property and construction industry in Asia in 2016.

According to a report by the Construction Intelligence Center entitled “Global Construction Outlook 2020”, a slowing growth rate in China’s construction industry is a key factor driving the a slowdown in Asia-Pacific.

Despite this, the region’s share of the global construction industry will likely continue to rise, reaching close to 49 per cent in 2020, up from 40 per cent in 2010. Driven by China’s continuing, albeit slowing, growth, the Asia-Pacific market is expected to represent nearly 60 per cent of global infrastructure spending by 2025.

Due to rapid urbanisation and increasing prosperity in Asia-Pacific’s emerging markets, there is still great potential for this sector in the long run. Each year, around 75 million people are added to the global urban population.

Countries such as UAE, the Philippines, Pakistan and India have multiple planned cities and urban renewal projects in the pipeline. These projects will certainly bring numerous job opportunities for overseas senior candidates, who will be able to develop their skill sets and transfer knowledge to others from working on large projects.

China still rising

Construction activities have undoubtedly slowed down somewhat in parts of the Asia-Pacific region, notably in China. 

Many international construction and development companies have tried to enter the market in mainland China, as they recognise the opportunities on offer. However, even those with extensive experience in Asia-Pacific have faced problems expanding into the region and encountered operational challenges.

In contrast, Chinese companies are consistently implementing aggressive expansion plans, not only in Hong Kong, but also in India, Singapore, Europe and North America.

According a recent report by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the gross value of construction work by main contractors in Hong Kong has been on the rise since 2009.

This recent rise in expenditure on infrastructure has primarily been driven by transportation projects. In attempts to expand land supply, the government is setting out new areas for development, driving an increase in construction activity.

Project directors in demand

Recent projects have become more complex than ever and, because of their dimensions and scale, they represent a potential high risk – and return–for investors.

One major challenge for the sector is the growing pressure to provide return on investment, which involves cost reductions, while maintaining high standards and quality of output.

Many construction companies in the Asia-Pacific region understand that the success of a mega project lies with its project directors. They also realise that project directors play a critical role in the long-term success of a company.

Sought-after project directors need to possess both hard and soft skills. In addition to having decades of experience and relevant technical skills, they must also have outstanding leadership abilities, political deftness and negotiation skills. Moreover, they need to be excellent communicators who are open-minded, worldly and multicultural.

Most importantly, they must be able to foster and maintain effective and collaborative partnerships with a range of internal and external stakeholders, aligning delivery of activities with organisational needs. These well-rounded, accomplished individuals are not always easy to recruit.

Securing the right talent

Recruiting ideal candidates, and subsequently developing and retaining them, will soon be one of the sector’s greatest challenges.

Those companies not yet experiencing hiring issues may be having problems finding the most efficient and effective ways to provide training and development, which also has ramifications for productivity.

Hong Kong has unique constraints when it comes to recruitment. Even if companies might have the right talent, they may have a hard time convincing Hong Kong- or China-born project directors to move abroad. This makes it harder to fill the skills gap.

Recruiting project directors requires an approach distinct from executive search methods for corporations in other sectors. You cannot lure them with just the usual compensation benefits. Stimulating and challenging projects – whether they can make a big impact on society, or can help them to leave a legacy – are a greater motivating factor for such talent. They will also consider whether their training and development programs are well-managed.

Project directors working internationally also want to know that they will be valued by their company. It is important to develop a diverse corporate culture in the workplace, as a culture clash within an organisation may not only hinder business performance, but also affect the moral of the talent in the organisation – particularly when the culture imbalance is not in their favour.

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Expanding horizons.

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