AS THE ECONOMY continues to pick up, people are again investing in the property market and the construction sector is showing signs of optimism after a few years in the doldrums. This has led not only to rising prices but has stirred demand for professional construction engineers. Though signs of recruitment are more obvious in the residential sector, vacancies are also being created in the commercial sector, with the conversion of industrial estates into commercial offices. This move has been helped by the government's decision to rezone estates previously used for manufacturing for 'Other Use (Business)'. The building of new hotels and the refurbishment of older properties has also given the sector a boost. Infrastructure and highway projects may not yet be generating new jobs but at least there is a feeling that these areas will also pick up within the next two years, once government investment plans are confirmed. The industry professionals most likely to be in demand are architects, structural, geotechnical and building services engineers. 'The general trend of layoffs has been reversed, since some firms are hiring again and salaries are increasing,' said Greg Wong, president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. 'Following the typical construction engineering cycle, employers are taking on more architects and starting to hire geotechnical and structural engineers.' As the cycle progresses, building services engineers responsible for lifts, electrical and ventilation systems will also be recruited. The institution monitors such trends to keep members briefed about developments. As a recognised qualifying body, it also encourages the exchange of technical information and oversees training. For those with a degree in engineering, this involves taking the three-year Scheme A training programme which entails practical experience with a full-time employer and extra course work. 'After a further year of work, trainee engineers submit a portfolio, are interviewed in detail about their work experience, and are required to write an essay before becoming a member of the institution,' Mr Wong said. Career advancement then depends on keeping abreast of the latest technical developments, updates in building codes and general professional practices. The institution also recognises higher levels of professional competence with its fellowship. A special committee will evaluate candidates before the distinction is confirmed. 'If any firm is thinking of appointing an engineer as a director, that person is more than likely to be a fellow of the institution,' Mr Wong said. Typically, engineers today have technical and communication skills, particularly in English, which is used for most reports, presentations and meetings. The opportunities for construction engineers depend to a certain extent on their employer's scope of operations. But many Hong Kong construction firms now have an extensive geographical reach, which involves designing and completing projects in the mainland, Vietnam and throughout Asia.