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Shatin to Central Link (SCL): Hong Kong Construction Boom in Full Flow

Shatin to Central Link (SCL): Hong Kong Construction Boom in Full Flow:
Construction Recruitment and Skills Shortages Increasingly in the Spotlight

The consultants at Maxim Recruitment in the UK, Middle East and Hong Kong offices have been reporting the coming construction boom in Hong Kong for many years now, and the authorisation of the Shatin to Central Link (SCL) by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong  27/3/12 and funding approval for it by Finance Committee of the HKSAR 11/5/2012 will arguably bring the boom into full swing once work starts on site in mid 2012.

The 6 Hong Kong MTR Projects comprise:
West Island Line (WIL)
Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL)
West Kowloon Terminus (WKT)
South Island Line (SIL)
Kwun Tong Line Extension (KTE)
Shatin to Central Link (SCL)

Construction Challenges and Risk Management on Hong Kong MTR Projects
At an Association of Project Management (APM) event 19/10/2011 the Project Director of MTR, TC Chew outlined the major challenges facing MTR and their contractors during the course of construction.  The full summary of this presentation can be read here.  He outlined what he saw as the 4 key challenges; those of tight program, limited time and budget, complex construction and multidisciplinary E&M Interfaces.

Construction Skill Shortages Worsening
In the APMHK May seminar, Ir. Philco Wong, General Manager of Shatin to Central Link (SCL)  restated the huge challenge and complexity of the planned SCL works and confirmed that 2 of the 10 major contracts (1111 and 1112) will be awarded under Target Cost contracts to reflect this.  However, he made particular detailed reference to the shortage of local labour, engineering graduates and experienced construction and engineering professionals. He also made pointed reference to the increasingly clear mismatch of timings whereby so many MTR projects and other Hong Kong infrastructure and development projects are all underway at the same time.  This has inevitably led to rising costs for labour and problems with its availability and supply.  Mr Wong referred to graduate engineer salaries rising fast and recognised the shared interest in having both MTR and their contractors offering their staff not just a fair salary but also career progression, training and other benefits to increase staff retention. He mentioned the idea of contractors being well advised to draw up staff retention plans for their trained and experienced engineers and staff to ensure they don’t 'jump ship' just as they become most valuable to their employer. He also predicted the lack of both labour and skilled engineering staff becoming even more of a problem in 2013.

The Construction Skill Talent War – The 4 Methods Available
Mr Wong was careful to highlight the shared interest MTR has in ensuring availability of skilled construction and engineering staff, both for MTR themselves and also for the contractors actually building the rail projects for them. In reality of course people do change jobs for a variety of reasons both professional and personal; limited churn is inevitable and a free labour market is a sign of a civilised society.  However for forward looking construction organisations in Hong Kong, minimising staff turnover and the associated retention and recruitment issues must now be a major strategic priority.

There are only 4 ways to ensure that there is enough talent within an organisation to deliver the projects already won and those about to be awarded such as the Shatin to Central Link (SCL):
1. Use of Retention Policies to keep your staff (reviews/salary & benefits/training)
2. Use of Training Policies to identify, upskill and fast track people's skills and careers
3. Deployment of Staff Attraction Strategies to bring in new people through the use of efficient passive and active recruitment methods (referral scheme/recruitment KPIs/relationships with recruiters & external suppliers)
4. Import Skills from Overseas either directly or through the use of recruitment consultancies or labour suppliers
5. Engage Headhunters – use of a professional headhunter or recruitment consultancy to provide a solution to a time sensitive or operationally critical skills gap.

In Conclusion
We believe that construction employers in Hong Kong are now finding the recruitment of staff to be a critical issue; this is evidenced through the fact that Maxim Recruitment is now working with most of the major players in Hong Kong to provide them with effective recruitment services. 
We welcome contact from both employers and serious job seekers in Hong Kong and around the world who feel they could benefit from our recruitment services.

Steve Thomas
Hong Kong
May 2012

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