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Skilled workers call the shots

Published on Friday, 17 Jun 2011
Developers expect a strong demand for transportation-related expertise in Asia.
Photo: Xinhua
Charlton Wong
Alex Kwan

As one of Hong Kong's largest engineering consultancies, Aecom obviously has the scope and skills to handle many kinds of projects.

Yet a roll call of contracts currently on the go may still surprise because it reveals the company's involvement almost everywhere major construction or development work is taking place.

Considering just transport, this includes a string of MTR extensions, the express rail link to Guangzhou, and the Central to Wan Chai bypass.

But there are also bridge, cruise terminal, water treatment, urban regeneration and environmental projects that will shape Hong Kong as a 21st century city.

"Infrastructure investment by the government and the MTR represents a very significant proportion of construction spending," says Alex Kwan, Aecom's executive vice-president, Hong Kong.

"The industry went through a slack period in the past decade, but a rapid increase in the volume of work means that companies are now competing for limited resources. Finding sufficient skilled personnel and labour presents a challenge, very much so for contractors, but also for consultants, albeit to a lesser extent," he says.

To maintain the required standards and quality, particularly of on-site supervision, Kwan believes there are two essentials. One is to provide adequate training. The other is to maintain a stable workforce, something that largely depends on giving the necessary attention to employee engagement issues.

"Many of our major projects will enter the construction phase in the next couple of years, so we will be recruiting a large number of resident site staff to fill supervisory positions," says Kwan. "We are also constantly looking for skilled and experienced key hires to reinforce our 3,000-strong Hong Kong workforce." In addition, the firm employs more than 1,400 staff on the mainland and, altogether, has close to 45,000 professionals working in 125 countries.

Charlton Wong, Aecom's regional managing director for transportation projects, adds that the company looks for certain personal qualities in all applicants. Primarily, these include good communication skills and the ability to co-operate effectively in different teams. International experience and an interest in working on overseas assignments are generally seen as a big plus.

Aecom may find itself busier than ever in Hong Kong, but the office here also seconds consultants to a wide variety of rail, aviation, urban planning and building projects around Asia. "In China, our portfolio includes high-speed rail developments in Hefei and Qingdao," Wong says. The prestigious Chengdu IFC and Nanjing World Trade Centre complexes are just two of many urban development and construction projects taking shape on the mainland.

Wong says: "We are forecasting growth in all the markets we serve and will therefore continue to fill vacancies that come up from time to time."

Regarding career development, the firm makes a point of helping employees with a wide range of courses to improve technical and soft skills, but also stresses they must take steps wherever possible to help themselves.

"As part of our annual review exercise, we work with the major [human resources] consultancies to benchmark our existing compensation and benefits against the external market," Kwan says.

"We also have a special HR initiative under way this year to consolidate job profiles and ensure that our compensation benchmarking is more accurate."


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