Overseas employers target local talent

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

WITH THE RELEASE of the latest blockbuster which has been filling cinemas around the world, it is hard to escape the name Da Vinci.

We may doubt whether Leonardo left codes and clues in his paintings for future generations to puzzle over, but we can be sure that he was one of history's great engineers.

He designed flying machines, mechanical devices and blueprints which turned out to be centuries ahead of their time.

If he were alive today, Da Vinci would certainly have no shortage of opportunities to put his engineering talents to use.

The demand for these skills, especially in Australia, New Zealand and England, is so high that overseas employers are doing their best to persuade engineers to relocate from Hong Kong.

'There are severe shortages of engineering skills in the United Kingdom, especially at the most senior levels,' said Craig Slater, business director of Hays Engineering in England. He said for job seekers, the engineering market was extremely buoyant, with many new projects started or in the pipeline.

Research done this year by the Henley Management College found that more than one third of British engineering firms believed the lack of qualified personnel had resulted in lower earnings and significant delays in new product development.

The study, conducted for the Royal Academy of Engineering, surveyed more than 400 engineering companies. The conclusion was that the problem was not only serious, but likely to get worse as senior engineers retired.

The critical factor was that many people with a technical ability went into information technology during the 1990s, rather than engineering. The level of demand has also increased as a result of London winning the right to host the 2012 Olympics, Liverpool being nominated as the European capital of culture in 2008, and large-scale developments, such as the building of Heathrow airport's terminal five.

'Construction companies involved in the 2012 Olympics are interested in engineers who have worked on the Beijing projects,' Mr Slater said. 'Their experience would be particularly welcome.'

There are vacancies with companies involved in railways, civil and structural work, highways, utilities and geological testing. 'There is also a shortage of hydrologists with expertise in catchment areas and the better utilisation of water resources,' Mr Slater said.

Those most in demand, he said, were qualified engineers with more than three years of experience. Employers often expected candidates to have a master's degree as well as chartered status.

The typical working week in Britain is 37.5 to 40 hours, with a minimum of 20 to 27 days of annual leave.

Engineering is regarded as a hi-tech discipline, and the larger companies run graduate trainee schemes and continuing professional development programmes. 'Engineers generally get a company car because their work often involves site visits,' Mr Slater said.

Australia has a similar shortage of skills. Qualified engineers with at least one year of practical experience often have a choice of good jobs. Those with up to three years of experience can expect to be offered contracts of two years or more, said Emma Charnock, general manager of Hays Construction and Property Hong Kong.

Australia's strengthening economy has created a demand for engineers who are familiar with mining, oil and gas projects and infrastructure development. 'People with experience in developing Hong Kong's rail and road systems would be easy to place in Australia,' said Adam Shapley, manager of Hays Construction and Property Australia.

The country's climate and appreciation of the work-life balance are generally a big attraction. Work starts early but finishes no later than 6pm, and the five-day week and 25 days of annual holiday ensure employees have plenty of time off.

Paul Greenaway, media manager of Haines in New Zealand, said the demand in that country was mostly for engineers with experience in gas, oil and infrastructure. Economic growth in the last decade had also spurred investment in service-related and industrial projects.

'We have to look for talent overseas even though media costs may be higher, and we may have to travel to other countries to interview,' Mr Greenaway said. 'Our consultancy clients see this as necessary to secure the right people.'

New Zealand offers a good lifestyle, breathtaking scenery, good air quality and relatively low house prices compared with Hong Kong. 'An excellent standard of living in a safe and friendly environment makes New Zealand a great place for engineers to live and work,' Mr Greenaway said.

Besides experience and relevant qualifications, employers also look for the ability to adapt and settle in quickly to a new role. Candidates who make the shortlist can expect initial interviews with a recruitment consultancy, in person or by telephone, before any direct contact is made with the prospective employer.

With the internet, finding out about jobs on the other side of the world has become relatively easy. Applications by e-mail, telephone interviews and video conferences have become a part of the recruitment process.

'However, many employers still think it is essential to interview the candidate in person,' Mr Slater said.

While engineering jobs may be available in plenty, applicants should not lapse into complacency. Nigel Cumberland, managing director of Hays Asia, said candidates should be proactive and show passion and commitment if they wanted to secure the best positions.

'Engineers may not sell themselves well, but it is an urban myth that they have poor communication skills,' Mr Cumberland said.

He advised against using a standard application for different posts. 'Candidates should tailor their application to a specific position and country and address letters to a named person.'

Package deals

Excellent packages are available overseas for qualified and experienced Hong Kong engineers

Salaries for posts in Australia, New Zealand and England range from $365,000 to $1.4 million a year

Many packages include a company car and a minimum of 20 days' holiday a year

Inner workings

Engineering is the application of scientific and technical knowledge to solve practical problems

Engineers use imagination, judgment and reasoning to design, produce and operate useful objects or processes

Civil engineering often involves infrastructure projects such as road and rail construction

Structural engineering mainly relates to work on buildings

Engineers typically use prototypes, scale models, simulations and tests, which may be destructive or non-destructive, to check their designs and calculations

Computer-aided design software allows engineers to create drawings and models to check for possible flaws, which is less expensive than building a prototype