DEMAND FOR talented engineers has outstripped supply in southern China. Companies are having a hard time recruiting, and holding on to staff has also become difficult. This demand covers all engineering disciplines as growth across southern Asia drives rapid development. Engineers are needed for a huge range of projects, from major construction works in Macau and southern China to smaller engineering projects unrelated to construction. 'Even organisations such as the investment banks will look to hire people from an engineering background to manage their facilities and help them to find extra office space,' said Anthony Thompson, managing director Hong Kong and southern China at head-hunting company Michael Page International. Demand for engineers has pushed up salaries in the sector. 'Most [engineers] who are making a move at the moment are looking for at least a 10 to 15 per cent increase, and in nearly every case they are getting it. In some cases it is significantly more,' Mr Thompson said. A recent survey conducted by Michael Page International found that salary increases across the region had averaged 2 per cent to 5 per cent in the past year, with experienced engineers in managerial positions now expecting an annual salary of between HK$750,000 and HK$950,000. The same survey, which was sent to more than 14,000 employees in Hong Kong and 20,000 employers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan (to gain a regional viewpoint), found that business expansion and additional projects had led 58 per cent of employers to expect a staff increase next year. In Hong Kong, 77 per cent of employers questioned said staff retention was a primary focus. The main strategies being adopted were career promotion, training and development, as well as an increase in base salaries. Mr Thompson said these measures reflected the wishes of most engineers, who were looking for an attractive salary and a rewarding career. 'Engineers are not just interested in what is going to happen in the short term on a particular project, but where a company can take them in the years to come and what the opportunities are for career development,' he said. 'So putting in place succession plans and a clear direction in terms of a career path is becoming important not only to attract quality people, but to retain them, because good people are constantly being approached [by other companies].' Because most of the large construction projects are based outside Hong Kong, companies are also having to offer higher salaries and performance-based rewards. 'If someone is going to move from Hong Kong to Macau, Guangzhou or Shenzhen for a period of time, companies have to ensure that their relocation strategies are attractive; that their staff are living in appropriate accommodation and that they have the chance to come back to Hong Kong frequently.' In addition, companies can attract good-quality engineering graduates by registering with the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). Set up in 1947, it has 20,000 members and sets standards for the quality and training of engineers. It has strict rules governing the conduct of its members and enables them to keep abreast of the latest developments in engineering. The institution's president, Wong Kwok-lai, said companies that provided training accredited by the HKIE assured their graduate trainees an accelerated path to membership of the institution, relieving them of at least two years of additional training. These companies are therefore the first choice for engineering graduates. The HKIE works closely with universities in Hong Kong to maintain the quality of the engineering degrees on offer. In June 1995, the HKIE joined the Washington Accord as one of the signatories. As a result, the engineering degrees accredited by the HKIE are recognised by other signatories including Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain and the United States, giving graduates trained in Hong Kong every opportunity to work all over the world. Engineers with a degree from a Hong Kong university and work experience in southern Asia were likely to be even more in demand, said Mr Thompson, 'because they are working on some very interesting projects on a large scale, particularly in southern China'.