Skilled workers in short supply in Hong Kong's construction industry

Hong Kong faces a shortage of skilled workers in the construction sector, with projects in Macau and mainland drawing workers away

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 11:56am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 5:01am

Strong investment on the mainland and in Macau and a large amount of infrastructure work in Hong Kong have resulted in a growing shortage of suitably skilled labour and professional talent in Hong Kong's construction industry.

"Hong Kong property and construction talent relocating to China and Macau is an increasing trend, and this should continue," said Christopher Aukland, regional director of recruitment firm Michael Page in Hong Kong.

"The increased lack of talent within Hong Kong will mean the recruitment market becomes more competitive, which can eventually push up salary levels in this sector.

"We have recently seen the trend of China and Macau-based roles offering higher salaries in the property and construction sector than similar roles in Hong Kong.

"This is due to a lack of qualified talent in those locations. Therefore, employers need to offer incentives to attract candidates to work in those locations."

Another attraction, Aukland said, was that "often for Hong Kong professionals, working in China and Macau can provide the opportunity to work on more high-profile, large and iconic projects".

Skill shortages were visible mainly in positions such as project managers with an architectural background and quantity surveyors, said James Leung, manager of Michael Page's Hong Kong office.

The government and MTR Corporation are building railway lines in Hong Kong, with peak completion volume next year, and casino operators are building six mega casinos in Macau, with peak completions in 2016.

The public sector could absorb more construction labour and drive costs up even further, a report from Morgan Stanley said.

The increased lack of talent within Hong Kong will mean the recruitment market for talent becomes more competitive, which can eventually push up salary levels in this sector
Christopher Aukland, Michael Page

Employers in Hong Kong looking to attract talent this year would need to offer competitive incentives to secure staff, with 10 to 15 per cent in additional salary the typical increment when professionals change employers, Aukland said.

But employers in Hong Kong were wary of candidates asking for too much of an increase, since that gave the impression that they were motivated by money, indicating a risk that they might leave if there was higher offer in future, he said.

Leung said the salary increase required could be as much as 20 per cent at times.

Major infrastructure projects, such as railways and housing, were now in main construction mode, which had placed hiring pressure on the construction sector, ManpowerGroup's second-quarter employment outlook survey said last week.

"As our infrastructure continues to grow and widen, added pressure is being put on an already inadequately skilled workforce in this sector," said Lancy Chui, a managing director at ManpowerGroup.

At present, more than 10,000 skilled workers were required, Chui said. However, the retirement of ageing construction workers and the reluctance of younger people to join the industry did not bode well over the short to medium term, she said.

"To add to this, architects and engineers are also in great demand, particularly those with Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia experience," she said.

In a survey of the Hong Kong construction market released by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors last month, more than 90 per cent of respondents indicated skills shortages among quantity surveyors, bricklayers and carpenters and joiners.