NO END IN SIGHT ON SKILLED CONSTRUCTION WORKERS FOR VITAL BUILDING AND INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS. IS PREFABRICATION THE ANSWER?
One of the city’s biggest building contractors is reacting to a shortage of skilled construction workers by expanding the use of prefabricated modules in a major transport project connecting Lantau Island to the mainland.
One major Construction company said the use of prefabricated units would reduce by 40,000 Man days the time it would take to construct it’s 1.6km section of viaduct over the sea between Lantau and an artificial island under construction near Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, where Currently there are more than 1,000 workers engaged on the project.
The viaduct forms part of the 9km Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok link, the HK$45 billion project was put in the spotlight last week when a shipping accident closed the only road and rail link between Lantau and the rest of Hong Kong for a numbers of hours.
Due to a shortage of skilled labour the company has resorted to precasting major concrete sections and cells to reduce the number of steel fixers, carpenters, riggers and concrete gangs needed to construct the foundations of the viaduct,
The construction industry has long lamented a shortage of workers, and a failure to recruit labour since the end of the Government’s last labour importation scheme that was identified as being essential back in the early 1990’s to enable the timely construction of the APC (Airport Core Projects) and today is cited as being a major reason for delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns on a string of large-scale public works projects.
Most Hong Kong main contractors expected the shortage of skilled labour to continue as future major infrastructure projects are rolled out over the coming years, whilst with the help of the unions resisting attempts of importation the subcontractors increase their bid prices holding everyone to ransom and resulting in project delays.
Projects in the pipeline
Projects such as public housing “always an ongoing necessity” will be commencing within the next 5 to 10 years thereby increasing the need for skilled labour. This will add to the demand for MEP (Mechanical Electrical & Plumbing) skilled workers.
As projects including building a third runway [at Hong Kong International Airport] also go ahead, they will trigger a new demand for skilled construction workers.
Past surveys carried out across the construction industry have shown a shortfall of around 8 to 13% of workers, meaning the industry still requires a major increase of a minimum of eight per cent across the industry.
Government efforts to boost vocational training would not bear fruit for some time, as it takes at least three or four years to train a skilled construction workers. The shortage would continue to be “severe” for the time being.
The Construction Industry Council estimated last year the city would have a shortfall of 10,000 to 15,000 skilled labourers in the coming years. The urgency of the new Lantau link, due for completion by the end of
2018, was put into sharp focus on Friday, when a barge struck a Bridge, forcing its closure and leaving local and international commuters stranded in gridlock for hours to get to and from the Airport.
Whilst the use prefabricated modules and sections would reduce the need for some types of labour it will not be the answer overall as even enabling works will always be manually intensive.
No end in sight for skilled construction workers for vital building projects