#edGY: Demand for property professionals heats up

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IT LOOKS like boom time for the property and construction sector in Malaysia and the region.

On the home front, it is forecast that construction spending by both the public and private sectors is expected to grow 4.5% per annum over the next four years, following the rollout of the government’s Economic Transformation Programme. Construction expenditure amounted to RM60.4 billion in 2012.

But the good times have not attracted quite enough skilled labour to the local building industry, which is seeing a major talent crunch, especially at the mid to senior levels.

According to international recruiting firm Spring Professional, one of the reasons for the shortage is that there is not enough supply of local talent to take on specific jobs. Another is the ongoing brain drain.

Spring Professional specialises in recruiting talent in the information technology, engineering and property and construction sectors in Asia.

At a recent briefing, its country director in Malaysia, Jeff Bonnin, says the most sought-after positions in the property sector are in site-related work and construction. “Jobs such as construction managers, site managers and site engineers are in high demand, especially for high-impact projects.”

Bonnin also observes that the talent gap is more apparent in Johor and Sabah and Sarawak, where a significant number of construction projects are being carried out. However, the majority of the employees in property and construction are semi-skilled.

Says the firm’s senior consultant, Sophia Lim, “The demand for property and construction professionals is definitely more than what the country can supply and only 10% of the local talent has the skill set and experience to work on large-scale projects.”

She adds that most graduates who hold a degree in civil engineering or construction management are not interested in working in these fields because of their tough working conditions and unattractive remuneration package. Also, many of those who have the qualifications and skills tend to move overseas where the projects and remuneration packages are more appealing. And just like Malaysia, other countries in the region need a lot of skilled workers.

Note that in China, demand for real estate has been insatiable, paving the way for the country to become the world’s largest construction market by 2020. In Hong Kong, soaring demand for eco-friendly buildings and infrastructure investment is expected to boost the outlook for its property sector.

Singapore’s real estate market too has proved resilient in recent years and continues to be popular among Asian and Western investors.

Coming back to Malaysia, Spring Professional observes a 10% salary hike in its property and construction sector in the last one year. Based on its findings, a construction manager with 7 to 12 years of working experience earns about RM8,000 to RM12,000 a month while a site engineer with at least seven years of relevant experience earns between RM7,000 and RM8,500 a month.

Bonnin believes the range will widen steadily as the salary packages have to remain competitive to attract talent. He also sees plenty of investment opportunities in the property and construction sector.

The industry, which collaborates with other industries such as healthcare, transport and education, currently provides more than 800,000 job opportunities, playing a crucial role in the country’s economy.

“More projects are being given the green light, thus creating an employee-driven market. When employees are in demand, employers need to do something to attract them.

“One way is to offer higher salaries, and as employees get more experienced, their skills have to be compensated fairly,” Bonnin stresses.

Wooing back local talent

With the public and private sectors expediting efforts to produce a large number of highly skilled professionals, Bonnin believes one way is to woo home experienced Malaysian talent.

“When it comes to brain drain, it has to be a collaboration between the companies and the government. The latter can attract talent to its high-profile projects, for example the mass rapid transit system, while for the former, being a part of such projects builds their brand.”

He clarifies that employing foreign talent will not limit job opportunities for local talent. “It is necessary for specific projects because the local talent doesn’t have the skills. Still, we can’t say the skills are not here yet because look at the massive developments in the market, such as KLCC, klia2 and SMART — these are quite new. The thing is, when the foreigners come in, they impart their knowledge and skills to the locals.”

In the meantime, companies are now offering attractive remuneration packages to employees, providing them with more benefits and good work experience. They are also looking at what motivates certain employees to take on specific jobs.

“Money is secondary to some. They are more interested in building their career by gaining more experience, being part of mega projects, as this will look impressive in their résumés. Experience wins every time,” says Lim.

This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 15 - 21, 2014.