The construction industry could face a severe shortage of engineering staff if the government continues to pile on more work for contractors and consultants, according to the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers.
Staff vacancies in engineering companies were running at 20 percent, according to HKIE president Choy Kin-kuen, who had recently visited over 50 firms on a fact-finding survey.
More work meant more staff was needed but at present firms were finding it difficult to fill vacancies, so they were responding by increasing the workload on the staff that they had, Choy said.
But Choy said if the government kept on increasing the workload with more infrastructure and housing projects, with little corresponding increase in supply of engineers then it could affect the progress of construction work.
Choy said the government was considering his request to it that it improve the scheduling of new work to even out demand for engineers.
Vacancies were most acute in civil and structural engineering and building construction fields with both professional and technician grades in keen demand by employers.
Latest figures from the Census and Statistics Department show the provisional figure for construction output for Hong Kong in nominal terms for the third quarter of 2012 was HK$38.2 billion, representing a jump of 15.8 percent year on year.
Added together, construction output for the first three quarters of 2012 was HK$113.4 billion, representing nearly 90 percent of that for 2011 with the fourth quarter figures still to be released.
In terms of sector, output in the third quarter for the public sector was HK$12.3 billion in nominal terms, up 13.7 percent on a year earlier while output in the private sector surged by 30.2 percent to HK$12 billion.
The value of public sector work for the first three quarters was HK$37.5 billion, about double the annual total of HK$18.7 billion recorded for 2009.
Even more work is in the pipeline if the measures announced in the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s recent policy address are followed through.
These include at 75,000 public rental units during the next five years, at least 100,000 public rental units in the five years starting 2018, a new town the size of Fanling or Sheung Shui in New Territories North and reclamation of between 2,000 to 3,000 hectares outside Victoria Harbour.
Demand for staff for casino projects in neighbouring Macau isn’t helping either.
Australian firm Leighton Contractors (Asia) was recently advertising for staff to man its recently awarded casino contract.
In addition, a major industry client, local railway operator MTRC (0066), has been recruiting engineering staff for its railway projects.
Choy said while the local universities have been churning out about 2,800 engineering graduates per year in recent years, not all of them were going into the construction industry.
Industries with better prospects, especially financial services, were siphoning off new recruits with about 10 percent of graduates deciding not to pursue a career in engineering.
While the bigger firms were able to actively do recruiting at university job fairs, smaller firms with limited resources were unable to compete.
As such, the HKIE was helping out in organizing recruitment drives at universities for the smaller firms, Choy said.
The Hong Kong Construction Association reiterated recently that the industry was still facing a shortage of construction workers to meet the increased workload.