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Hong Kong’s Problem Projects

Hong Kong is a world leader when it comes to the construction of mega scale civil engineering and infrastructure projects, and in recent years we have seen the development of several mega scale HK$ billion projects.

Construction on this scale creates a strong jobs market as contractors and consultancies involved in the projects look to recruit sufficiently skill Quantity Surveyors and Engineering professionals to ensure the project is delivered on time and budget. However, as is often the way in construction, things don’t always go to plan and these complex mega scale projects can often encounter significant delays which in turn create additional costs through claims.

The recent boom period of construction in Hong Kong (2010 – 2015) saw the construction of several major MTR extensions along with other large scale infrastructure projects; this led to a high demand for Engineering, Commercial and Construction Management professionals. However with all these large scale projects ongoing at the same time and limited available local labour resources this inevitably led to problems. With tight deadlines and a lack of manpower contractors involved in these problems began to encounter significant delays.

Working in Hong Kong as a construction professional means there is a good chance you will be involved in one of these delayed “problem projects” at some point during your career, so let’s take a look at 2 of the most recent problem projects and the potential advantages and disadvantages of working on one of these projects.

The Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge (HZMB)

This large scale project consists of a Main Bridge together with boundary crossing facilities and link roads which are designed to help meet the demand of passenger and freight land transport in the region. However, things are not going well for the bridge that will link Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai. It is now over-budget, faces severe technical challenges and is at least one year behind its original completion schedule of 2016. The project has also faced a number of health and safety issues with 7 workers killed and 129 injured during the construction phase so far. Extra funding of HK$5.46 billion has recently been approved for the project, which will cover the remaining works, including settling claims for delays from contractors, of which there are now 30 cases with a total value of up to HK$1.2 billion. The project has a new target completion date of 2017, however as ongoing complications continue to hamper progress confidence in meeting this deadline are low.

West Kowloon Terminus Station - Express Rail Link (Contract 810A)

A major part of the 26km Express Rail Link to China, 810A is one of the largest construction contracts awarded in Hong Kong. Situated in Kowloon, the terminus will serve as Hong Kong's international rail gateway to China. The project involves constructing a 380,000-square metre underground terminus with 9 long-haul and 6 shuttle platforms, immigration facilities and other retail outlets on four levels. This ambitious project has recently been the subject of several high profile press stories relating to the significant delays and extra costs needed to complete the project.

As contractors encounter significant technical challenges during construction, delays and claims on the project have been widespread, and after lengthy debate HK$19.6 billion extra funding has been approved in order to complete the project. The new target completion date is 2018, 8 years after construction began.

POSITIVES

Working on a problem project in Hong Kong as a construction professional is not all doom and gloom, and there could actually be some benefits, both financial and career wise

  • Salary: Working on a problem project can often mean working longer hours and to tighter deadlines, this often means contractors and consultancies working on these projects find it hard to recruit new staff. This can often play to your advantage if you are already working on the project and makes you a valuable resource to your employer which in can be used as a bargaining tool during salary reviews. Working on a problem project can help maximise your earning potential.
  • Improve Your CV: Problem projects are often large scale, high value and usually well known in the press, often classified and landmark construction projects. Hong Kong has seen its fair share of these landmark projects, most notably Hong Kong International Airport (Chep Lap Kok). Being able to list one of these landmark projects on your CV will definitely benefit you in the long term as prospective employers will often look for these project names when shortlisting CVs and screening for candidates who they believe are capable of working on large scale projects in the future.
  • Career Progression: As already mentioned contractors and consultancies can often find it hard to recruit new staff for a problem project, and this puts extra emphasis and importance on the existing staff who tough it out for the project duration. Staff working on these projects can find themselves in an excellent position to gain promotions in recognition of their hard work on a troublesome project. This is also true when applying for new job opportunities as prospective employers will look for candidates who have experience of working on challenging projects and working under pressure to take on management roles in the future.

NEGATIVES

Working on a problem project may also have some negatives you might want to consider

  • Workload: working to tight deadlines with limited staff support on a delayed project can sometimes mean unmanageable workloads for existing employees who feel pressure to work longer hours in order meet expectations. The targets set can sometimes be unrealistic and this can lower staff morale.
  • Staff Attrition: These projects will usually see a high staff attrition rate with many people deciding to leave in order to find what they perceive a less stressful project and working environment – for the people who stay the high level of staff comings and goings can make it difficult to form a productive professional relationship with colleagues which can lead to low team morale within the project.

As a construction professional the project you are involved with can play a big part in job satisfaction and your long term career prospects, but as we see can there are both positives and negatives that can come from working on the more challenging projects, and there is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should purposely seek to work on these projects or avoid them. It’s fair to say Hong Kong has a great variety of large scale projects all of which can provide an excellent opportunity for Quantity Surveyors, Commercial Managers, Engineers and Construction Managers alike to develop their skills and develop their career.

If you’re interested in a particular project or want to find out more about the current prospects available to you in Hong Kong please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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Tim Cole
Senior Recruitment Consultant – Hong Kong & Asia

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