Works in progress
Due to ageing and a mismatch of skills, the construction industry faces a shortage of talent. With a company such as Gammon Construction, which has 5,100 staff and a continuing need for manpower for new projects, the hunt for the right people is a year-round process.
“Hiring is an ongoing requirement, but we don’t just recruit,” says Edmond Lai, Gammon’s director of human resources. “We spend a lot of time training our people and those of our subcontractors. We take a longer-term view. Gammon is willing to invest in people.”
A full range of positions is open, from project directors and managers down to engineers and foremen. Whenever Gammon wins a contract, they need people from the bottom to the top.
“We look for a positive working attitude, with high safety awareness but also the right competencies for the roles’ requirements,” Lai says.
The interview process depends on the level the company intends to fill, but for more senior positions a face-to-face interview is arranged to test the applicant’s track record and management skills in different situations.
Depending on the position, engineers should have a degree or higher diploma in an engineering-related discipline, while relevant professional qualifications will be a plus. Work experience related to the required project types will also be a bonus.
Soft-skill requirements also vary from position to position. “In general, excellent interpersonal and communication skills, good problem-solving abilities and a strong collaborative attitude are vital. Self-motivation, the potential to become a high performer and being a good team player are definite advantages,” Lai says.
In the case of fresh graduates, of whom Gammon aims to hire more than 100 this year, workshops are arranged for groups of five to six people. Observers will judge how participants can work on their own. Natural leaders will also emerge. “However, we not only hire leaders, we also need good doers,” Lai says.
Integrity, one of the company’s core values, is the most important requirement. Gammon sometimes carries out several reference checks to make sure they are getting the right person for the job.
Safety, another core value, is also a vital commitment. Psychometric tests are used to probe applicants’ attitude towards safety.
Diversified training programmes are offered by the Gammon Academy, set up in 2003. The training roadmap divides staff into four groups: new recruits, administrative staff, middle managers, and senior management and above.
Subjects include health, safety, environmental control, quality management, legal requirements, project planning, procurement and management skills, soft-skills training and many others.
The academy runs about 150 sessions a year, some of them credited by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, as part of the courses to gain chartership.
Around 90 per cent courses have been developed in-house to nurture excellence, and include classroom training, seminars, job-site visits and online training provided by senior staff.
Gammon also offers a three-year graduate training scheme covering a wide range of disciplines, and a talent development programme that offers real-world learning experiences such as job shadowing, experiential projects and mentoring.
The success of the Gammon Academy is partly due to the interest taken in it at high levels. The vice-chancellor is one of the company’s executive directors, Edmond Lai is head of the academy, and faculty heads are senior staff members. The curriculum is revised regularly to keep up with the fast-changing industry.
Lai says that training and supervision require a lot of resources but the Gammon Academy is a potent weapon in the fight to retain staff, who appreciate the chance for training and career development.
He is keen to encourage industry players to take a similarly longer-term view.
“To reap the benefits, we need good people. Without a long-term strategy, we cannot get there,” he says.
Graduate trainees will receive a four-day induction, including an orientation camp and site visits. Mature fresh hires will get a one-day induction. However, when the company forms a new team from different streams for a new project, they will also take part in team-building.
Staff activities are arranged by the social club and the company also has regular community engagements. Last year it took part in 106 community events.