“A new year – new career opportunities!” went the introduction to a job advertisement from financial public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies in last Saturday’s Classified Post.
With Chinese New Year just around the corner, no doubt company employees in general, not just in the construction industry, would be having the same thoughts, to the obvious concern of their bosses.
Traditionally, in the weeks and months following the lunar new year holidays, employees would see colleagues resigning after collecting their annual bonuses and going to new jobs.
Asked about such staff movements following the holiday, a company boss at a listed contractor said: “Of course, this is a concern for all [senior management] of construction companies.”
To keep retain staff and also reward them for loyalty and performance, it has already implemented a salary adjustment earlier this month, the average increase of which was six-plus percent.
“There are always twitchy feelings around this time of year as a lot of companies carry out their annual staff appraisals at this time. If staff don’t like their appraisal then they will take the bonus and run,” a claims consultant said.
He added the “mercenary” ones tended to be the expatriates looking for larger salaries.
A director at another consultancy said he was unsure if the consultants in general continued to pay bonuses to the more important and senior staff.
“It merely exacerbates the problem of staff churn. The challenge of too few staff for too many projects will be with us for years unless the government permits higher levels of importation [of professionals and technical staff],” he said.
A spokeswoman for engineering consultant Atkins China said: “We don’t see Chinese New Year bringing any particular impact for our staffing situation.”
She said the combination of high profile projects, diversity of experiences coupled with training and staff development, benefits and rewards served to attract and retain the best staff.
A spokeswoman for Australian contractor Leighton Contractors (Asia) said although the Hong Kong and Macau construction markets were active, it has been able to attract and retain staff at all levels.
“According to our experience, remuneration is only one of the factors to retain and attract the people to stay with the company,” she said.
Speaking off the record, a senior consultant at a global recruitment consultancy specializing in finding technical staff for various industrial sectors said the new year was a normal time for change.
However in 2013, the amount of movement was not the same as for 2012 probably due the greater amount of new projects released which gave workers new options and a reason to leave.
Last year saw a number of big projects awarded such as the first three contracts for the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point and the tunnel and viaduct contracts for the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link.
The MTR Corporation (0066) also awarded some big contracts for the Shatin-Central Link.
For 2014 though employees may prefer to sit tight as only a few major projects would be awarded this year.
“One thing I did notice last year was that candidates were happy to resign and then look for a job rather than having a job to go to when they resigned – mostly likely because there was a lot of project options for candidates so they could easily find a new job,” the recruiter said.
For now, with few new projects in the pipeline, employees would be tending to stay and see their current projects through to completion.
This was because the employees are realizing that spending longer on a project was better for their experience, reputation and CV, in addition to the employers making it more attractive to stay put.
Some companies appear to be pulling out all the stops to keep staff.
The recruiter said some firms were now offering an annual bonus plus two salary reviews per year whereas in the past it would be an annual bonus and “maybe” one salary review a year.
Still, leaving could be profitable as salaries are going up, the recruiter said, especially for roles such as foundation engineers, which are seeing heavy demand due to the government releasing public works projects too quickly.
Asked if he was seeing more enquiries from people thinking of leaving, the recruiter answered not really but there have been more enquiries about Macau projects and salaries.
“Construction workers are always fed up with their jobs, management, site environment and location, or having to handle more than one role on site, so nothing new really,” the recruiter said.
For some restless employees though, the lure of greener pastures was simply too tempting to resist.
“Some of our staff left the company in December and January before they can get the CNY bonus because some construction companies for example [name of one contractor withheld by Construction Post] are willing to pay them 30 to 50 percent more,” said one senior quantity surveyor at a listed developer and contractor.