Career Advice Expert Advice

Demand grows for construction specialists

The Eagle's Nest Tunnel stretches 2.1 kilometres underground between Cheung Sha Wan and Sha Tin. Working on the construction of the tunnel offered Clayton Chan, a principal engineer with AECOM, the chance to gain extensive experience and learn new techniques.

"I had the opportunity to [be involved in the] design of the site formation - the slope retaining wall and the tunnel portal," Chan says. "Because I was involved in the design stage, my boss sent me to work on the tunnel. I had the chance to work on explosives and to see how to control the water inflow."

Many new infrastructure projects in Hong Kong and across Asia are offering engineers opportunities to build similar experience. AECOM, for example, is looking to fill more than 250 positions in Asia, including engineers, architects, landscape designers, economists and technical directors. "For the next 12 months, the demand will grow," says Dimi Crossley, talent acquisition manager for AECOM in Asia. "We have a lot of project bids in the pipeline and, if we win them, we will need to recruit heavily." 

As the company is involved in MTR extension projects and other slope projects in Hong Kong, it especially needs geotechnical engineers. For its work on the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou Express Rail Link and the Chennai Metro project in India, it needs transportation, infrastructure and structural engineers.

Crossley says the company's wide range of projects and its multidisciplinary nature mean that employees gain excellent exposure and the chance to work with specialists. The roles are also attractive, she adds, because engineers get to work on large, high-impact projects.

"If you conceive something on a piece of paper, to see it materialise into, say, a park or a building is a very personal satisfaction," she says.

Chan says the number of bigger projects made him want to join AECOM in 2000 as an assistant engineer. "My thinking was simple: because it's a big firm, the job opportunities would be larger and maybe I could learn more."

He says his present role as principal engineer involves meeting clients and directing a team on the implementation of designs. "Some of the work is technical, the majority is management," he says. "I review reports and designs before we give them to clients. I also control the budget. Then I train the young engineers and try to help them to solve problems."

Chan says the work continually presents new challenges. A client might ask to use fibreglass instead of steel bars for part of a construction, for example, and Chan's team will have to advise on whether this could work. This means engineers need to be equipped with problem-solving skills. They should also be able to communicate effectively with their team and other parts of the company.

Chan says: "We are now working on huge projects where everybody just contributes a piece. If there's no communication, it's a mess and we can't meet the deadlines."

He says communication skills are necessary for more senior roles because these involve meeting clients frequently. Such roles also require good management skills and a strong commercial sense or awareness of how to save money.

Chan says the character of the engineer matters. "You should have an eager-to-learn spirit," he says. "To be a good engineer is very difficult. You need to have very broad knowledge, otherwise you can't manage mega-projects. If you can learn more and see more, then you can think more."