Overshadowed by the global financial turmoil, the outlook for employment in construction and property next year is mixed. Analysts and recruitment experts said prospects would depend on the progress of major infrastructure projects announced by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Kam-yuen in his policy address in October last year. Competition in the local job market is likely to intensify as professionals, who previously worked on building projects in Macau, are expected to return to Hong Kong. Macau's gaming-driven economy has been hit by the global credit crunch, and the central government's visa restriction has progressively reduced mainland visitor arrivals. But the impact of this was expected to be limited, said Peter Wong, president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. Nevertheless 'if the progress of large-scale infrastructure projects is slow and more construction professionals return from Macau, the supply of human resources will far outstrip demand', said Chris Urban, manager for property and construction at Michael Page International, a recruitment agency. Also 'the level of confidence is low', said Chris Armstrong, a senior consultant at Judd Farris Construction and Property Recruitment - Asia. 'Developers and contractors are offering less work.' Mr Urban said many large projects had been put on hold or delayed by developers erring on the side of caution. 'All projects are affected. Hotels and resorts in Macau are the most likely to suffer due to the decline in tourism and cutbacks on business travel. Lack of public confidence has also had an impact on residential projects.' Few residential projects would be initiated in Hong Kong in the coming year as the property market was headed down, said Ben Butt, director of Goldcrest Asia, a recruitment agency specialising in construction. In view of the negative sentiment in the market, some construction firms have stopped hiring altogether, while others have delayed recruitment. 'Even the best-known developers have implemented headcount freezes,' Mr Urban said. 'However, exceptions are always made for top-tier candidates.' Onsite construction management staff would feel the pinch of the slowdown in projects because of a large supply of these candidates in the market, Mr Urban said. The unemployment rate in the construction industry in Macau is 7per cent, according to Mr Wong. 'We've seen the return of some Hong Kong professionals who worked for construction contractors and small architectural firms in Macau,' he said. 'They were mainly engaged in small-scale projects. The impact of their returning to the local job market has been limited so far.' Mr Armstrong said returning Hong Kong professionals, who had been offered premium packages to work on projects in Macau, might have to accept less attractive salaries. On a positive note, the economic slowdown has led to a reduction in the cost of construction materials. 'This may have influenced the government's decision to go ahead with the infrastructure projects in the near future,' Mr Urban said. The local construction sector had regained some confidence because of the commencement of several large-scale infrastructure projects, including the MTR extension lines and the redevelopment of the old Kai Tak airport site, Mr Wong said. 'However any significant increase in demand for human resources will not emerge until the middle of 2009 when the first phase of the construction work of these projects starts.' The MTR extension lines are in the design phase. 'When construction begins next year, the demand is likely to grow for quantity surveyors and project managers who specialise in civil engineering projects, as well as structural engineers with railway experience,' Mr Butt said. 'Supply of these professionals should be sufficient as many have returned from Taiwan after the completion of the high-speed railway project.' Mr Urban said the demand from Hong Kong developers was for architects with both design and project management experience. 'The remuneration package for professionals in the top-end segment will remain stable. But those in the middle to senior management bracket, who want to earn more, must be prepared for frequent travel or even relocation.' Mr Armstrong said some Hong Kong companies looked for architects, project managers, commercial managers, quantity surveyors and designers. 'Firms in Hong Kong prefer experienced locals rather than expatriates who have not worked here before.' He said professionals who had always worked in Hong Kong with a good employment record could expect stable or even a modest increase in their remuneration packages. Mr Butt said there were about 2,500 Hong Kong professionals working in the construction industry in Dubai. The booming construction sector in the Middle East has shown no sign of a slowdown, and many Hong Kong firms with operations there are recruiting.