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"The Future Of" Series - Automation and digitalisation in construction

Interview with Michael Leung – Automation and digitalisation in Hong Kong’s construction industry

Think Hong Kong’s construction sector is stuck in the past? Think again. Big changes are happening as public and private sectors collaborate to integrate technology into the industry. Leading the charge is Mr. Michael Leung, General Manager of Hong Kong and Macau at global construction leader Hilti. Michael’s journey with Hilti spans nearly two decades, and it has seen him grow from project engineer to roles in sales, marketing and management, with stints in Australia, Macau and Mainland China.

One thing has remained consistent throughout his career: his passion for pushing Hong Kong’s construction industry forward. Under his leadership, Hilti has expanded from a product supplier to a full-on solution provider. Besides creating job rotations and upskilling opportunities for his teams, Michael walks the talk with upskilling himself to keep up to date on industry developments.

We caught up with Michael to find out more about the latest in automation and digitalisation within the construction industry and what these advancements mean for talent in Hong Kong.


Automation and digitalisation have been growing trends in construction for some years now. Tell us more about Hong Kong’s progress with integrating technology into the sector.

Lots of effort is going into educating the industry on how to use technology to enhance quality control, safety and sustainability. Since 2018, regulations from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have made building information modeling (BIM) technology a must-have for major government capital projects costing over HK$30 million. Other initiatives like modular integrated construction (MiC), environmental, social, and governance (ESG), and even the Certification of BIM Managers (CCBM) course I am taking now, have been actively promoted to improve the development across the construction sector.

It’s still early days for us when it comes to adopting technology in the construction sector, but this doesn’t mean that Hong Kong is lagging behind other markets. A colleague of mine from abroad recently dropped by an industry expo while he was here on a visit. He was impressed with the number of R&D companies here and how extensively industry players and the government are working together to develop the industry. Beyond funding alone, the government has also formulated sound policies around innovation and technology adoption. There is also more appetite from private property developers who are keen and confident to lean on digital solutions. Overall, we have a robust infrastructure in place.

Not all countries have the support that Hong Kong does. As an industry veteran, I can already see our collective efforts beginning to bear fruit in recent years. It is why I am optimistic about the progress that the Hong Kong construction industry will make in the coming years.


What is Hilti doing to promote technology within the construction industry?

At Hilti, we offer innovative solutions that empower companies to build their projects more safely and intelligently. On top of digital planning with BIM to simplify document and minimise on-site improvisation, we also offer digital solutions like concrete sensors, total stations, and even the Jaibot – an award-winning robot powered by semi-automated drilling technology – to help builders improve accuracy, productivity and safety levels.

As a leading player with high market penetration, we are well connected to senior stakeholders in the industry. This puts us in a good position to educate the market on the latest technologies. We often offer digital solutions at low cost to encourage adoption among our clients, and we also engage in knowledge sharing with other construction companies. Even though we may be competing in the same space, everyone is committed to bettering the industry, so in recent years we have been communicating frequently about best practices. Together, we’re working to create a healthy ecosystem that thrives for the next generation of construction.


As the industry shifts towards automation and digitalisation, what are some of the challenges you’ve experienced? How has that impacted your approach to talent?

Change management takes time. There is still some skepticism among workers around the adoption of technology. I’ve even heard from a young employee in my organisation who felt these efforts were just a gimmick. They still can’t quite see the potential of technology in transforming the sector, so we need to change mindsets and convince people of the benefits.

When we last spoke two years ago, data-driven skill sets like analytics were heavily in demand. Today, more than just specialised skills, we’re also looking for multi-disciplinary talent who can think out of the box. For example, talent on the factory side, such as in modular integrated construction (MiC), should also be aware of matters around safety, logistics, and the development of automation.

There are some candidates who have job hopped multiple times, serving only short stints in each company. Before, such candidates might not be considered for a position since they have never been with a single projection through to its completion. But now, companies may take a different perspective. These candidates also bring the unique position of having worked on many projects with exposure to a wide range of approaches. Instead of simply taking the task at hand for what it is, we want innovative individuals who can anticipate industry needs and find ways to meet them.


Can you share with us your talent strategy in regard to the transformation of the industry?

Hiring the right talent is very challenging. It’s not difficult to get stellar CVs from jobs we list online, but it is difficult to assess other qualities just from the CV alone – like whether the person has a sense of responsibility, or whether they bring a sense of purpose to their work.

For those reasons, we rely on specialists who understand what the industry needs. Through partners like Robert Walters, we’ve had great success with finding talent who are intellectually curious and passionate about developing alongside the industry.

We’re also looking to explore talent opportunities in the Greater Bay Area(GBA). GBA talent often exhibit strong motivation and passion. They can offer valuable insights by sharing their work practices from Mainland China, while possessing a broad international perspective. As integration between Mainland China and Hong Kong increases, opportunities arise. By bringing Hilti China and Hilti Hong Kong teams closer, I believe we can foster more knowledge sharing and a cross pollination of ideas.

Hilti at China Autumn Career Fair 2023

As someone who has successfully carved out a fulfilling career in the industry, what is your advice for candidates today?

Digitalisation and automation can reduce risk, improve safety, supplement construction work and ease labour shortages, but they will never replace people as all machines and technologies still have to be operated by humans. I believe there will be strong demand for talent in areas like construction technology applications in the next five to six years, so this is the right time to prepare for those opportunities.

Instead of growing only in one specialised area, candidates should consider upskilling across different domains so they are more nimble and responsive to industry changes. Internal rotations are also a good way to earn that breadth of experience and that is also something we promote at Hilti. For instance, sales representatives can move to positions in product marketing, or human resources talent can learn by shifting to other support functions. I recommend challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone and to find a deeper purpose at work.

There is much on the horizon for our industry with projects from the Northern Metropolis venture, MTR and more. Talent today will need to shore up their knowledge across a wider breadth of domains. But that also means they have more choices in where they can take their career and how they want to position themselves in the market.

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