Major Hong Kong-based contractor Gammon goes digital to help it overcome labour shortfall

Company says it is training its staff in new skills in a bid to attract younger people to an industry dominated by older workers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 6:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 4:25pm

One of the biggest contractors in Hong Kong, Gammon, has done something not many firms in the construction industry have done – it has adopted digitisation in a bid to attract younger people to a sector facing a serious shortage of workers.

The company said it had recently hired more women and trained workers in new skills, which has cut its labour shortfall from 5.4 per cent in November last year to the current level of 3.8 per cent.

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Gammon Construction chief executive Thomas Ho said every year the salary of construction workers increased by at least 10 per cent.

“But the shortage is still severe, and construction productivity has dropped worldwide to the same level as in the 1960s,” Ho said.

The average pay rise this year in all sectors has been 3.9 per cent.

To attract younger staff, Gammon invented its own cloud computing, online storage and mobile apps while applying innovative technologies including using virtual reality to train welders.

The firm’s virtual reality device allows trainees to practice in a safe environment and a grading system shows them their skill level.

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Gammon Construction executive director Kevin O’Brien said the device could shorten training and increase its quality.

“I believe it can help save workers three to six months of training – which used to be two to three years,” Ho said.

The company has purchased two machines for a total cost of HK$500,000.

The company also introduced an electronic systemto monitor the delivery of concrete in real time and a traffic control app to manage vehicle flow and the use of cranes to ease traffic congestion.

Gammon’s head of digital transformation, Terence Lui, said digitisation helped reduce the need for manpower by using systems to monitor construction without the need for onsite workers, thereby easing the problem of not having enough staff for field work.

“Digitisation is widely applied to other professions, while is seldom heard of in construction because of its dynamic environment and the need to deal with physical elements, which makes digitisation hard,” Lui said.

“We hope the government can promote more cutting-edge technologies including design for manufacture and assembly to attract young people and upgrade engineers’ skills,” Ho said.