Career Advice HR Focus

Growth prompts recruitment woes

With the modern world's ever greater reliance on high-speed computing capacity, the next few years will see a surge in demand for state-of-the-art data centres in Hong Kong.

That, in turn, will create significant new opportunities all along the line, from design and construction to operations and maintenance, not to mention on the programming and specialist-systems fronts.

For companies like EC Harris, such developments pose a range of challenges, some more pressing than others.

On the one hand, it is necessary to scale up recruitment to keep pace with expansion. Everything points to a need for consistent hiring on both the project-management and day-to-day-support sides of the business.

On the other hand, it can be hard to find qualified candidates capable of slotting into a mid- or senior-level role straight away. This makes it essential to offer comprehensive training and career progression, while also exploring how local colleges and universities can be persuaded to gear more courses to the practical needs of the sector.

"We have our core teams, and project lead times allow us to man up services as necessary - that is a normal process in most industries," says Stephen Hilton, regional head of engineering and critical facilities for EC Harris. "But as we build more data centres, we will obviously need more skilled and experienced personnel in a confined time - and there could be a shortage."

The planning, building and managing of such centres involves a wide spectrum of professional disciplines. Project managers, quantity surveyors, engineers and commercial managers all play a part, as do on-site specialists in areas like construction, security and maintenance.

"If the contractual relationship is to manage the total project, we have a facilities-management team to look after the building structure, soft services, and support systems," Hilton says. "This can include power supply, computer room cooling, cleaning, catering, and physical security."

To meet ongoing needs, the company recruits graduates with relevant degrees and more experienced staff. There is a well-defined path for personal development, with training for requisite professional qualifications, mentoring, and job rotations to show the full scope of the business.

"The challenge for me is to find talent and bring it on board as we plan ahead," Hilton says. "One problem, though, for the industry is that not enough people understand the data-centre environment and how the [different aspects] all interconnect. Up to now, there is no real course or certificate in this area, so we often get electronic or mechanical engineers and train them up."