Cr Daniel H. T. Shum, President of Hong Kong Institute of Construction Managers (HKICM) and Director of Kim Hung Construction & Engineering Co. Ltd., holds innumerable public offices and professional titles. But he is an easy-going man without putting on airs. His witty words, contagious humour and bright laughter warm up the crowd in a room instantly. Not surprisingly, his social skills have a lot to do with his job as a construction manager.
Equivalent of film director on construction site
Construction managers are analogous to film directors: the organisers who oversee the whole project. They entail professional knowledge of immense depth and breadth of the industry. They understand contractual terms and building regulations inside-out. They are well-versed with construction workflow management and all environment- and safety-related issues. They make sure the project progresses and unfolds without hiccups. As they have to deal with all kinds of matters arising from a building project, big and small, construction managers must have the skills to handle everything sensitively, maturely and with sound judgement. They also need considerable social and communication skills to take command in a construction site with hundreds or even over a thousand of workers while making sure they deliver on time. “In a construction site, you have to communicate with people on all levels – workers, consultants, professionals, landlord etc. Different parties need communications in different ways. Thus, to do one’s job well, a construction manager needs to accumulate life experiences. There isn’t a shortcut for this job. In fact, the youngest ones in the market are in their late 30s or early 40s. All construction managers in Hong Kong boast interdisciplinary professional knowledge, spanning across architecture, engineering and surveying. They usually began in one discipline and use that as a basis to explore his personal interest in being a construction manager. If they believe that have what it takes to assume a leadership role in building projects, they slowly shape their career in that direction,” Daniel explained to alumni interested in being construction manager.
Professionalism as a basis
Daniel did well at the HKCE exam. He wished to join the construction industry and thus enrolled in the two-year diploma programme in Building Studies at VTC. The programme covered varied subject matters and aroused his interest in the sector. Upon completion, Daniel kept on studying for six straight years, including a three-year higher diploma programme in Hong Kong, a BSc degree programme in quantity surveying at Robert Gordon’s Institute of Technology, Scotland (the precursor of The Robert Gordon University), and a MSc degree programme in construction project management at The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), before he returned to Hong Kong and started his career in the construction industry. During his career that spans several decades, Daniel has never stopped upgrading himself. He first acquired the titles of chartered surveyor, engineer and construction manager. Recently he was even qualified as a Registered Inspector, appointed to carry out inspection and supervision of prescribed repair works under the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme of the Buildings Department. This is a case in point that shows the importance of continuing education in the construction industry.
Dare to take on challenges
Since graduation, Daniel has only worked in three companies. In fact, he joined the company he now works for in 1992. He started out as a quantity surveyor and got transferred to Singapore in charge of opening a branch office there in 1993. “The market environment in Singapore was not as good as Hong Kong then. But I still decided to give it a try,” he said. He ended up spending five years there building public housing. Moving back to Hong Kong, Daniel came across more opportunities for his career to take off steadily. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, he was transferred once more to mainland China to manage real estate projects that are substantially different from what he had handled before.
Time and time again, Daniel said “yes” to the chances of pioneering in an unknown territory because challenges always come with opportunities. “I was 27 when I got transferred to Singapore. If I stayed in Hong Kong, my chance of being promoted to management was quite slim. As my employer trusted me and sent me there to open a branch office as an assistant general manager, that offer was too good to turn down. Later on, I was willing to relocate to mainland China because I observed the opportunities therein. In Hong Kong, I was in charge of construction of one building. In the mainland, I was building a community and gigantic hotel complexes. Not only did I get to apply my knowledge in construction and architecture, but also charted some new territories in professional sense.”
Daniel had a few words of advice for the young people – don’t be afraid of challenges. Embrace them if you come across any. “In an unfamiliar environment, you’d quickly learn how the cultures differ and how things are done dissimilarly. Communication involves profound knowledge and sensitivity. But most importantly, you should respect those differences in the first place.”
Serving in public offices to give back to society
Daniel has to travel frequently between the mainland and Hong Kong these days. Despite his busy schedule, he always makes time to serve his alma mater VTC, various government departments and trade associations as a consultant, committee member or director. He even signed up to be an examiner in construction-related educational programmes. In 2018, he was appointed the President of HKICM, and since then, he has facilitated the exchange of ideas between its members and experts, academic bodies and fellow construction managers from China and all over the world. HKICM also started offering a range of practical courses to help members acquire professional qualifications. In the beginning of October 2019, HKICM and Hong Kong Construction Association jointly organised a conference titled Construction New Era - Innovation & Professionalism. Daniel was thoughtful and caring enough to meet with VTC teachers and students in person during the conference, offering students the chances to learn from professionals from different countries, updating themselves with the latest market information and broadening their horizons. He makes time to give back to the society so that he can get in touch with all walks of life and learn how they think. “A coin has two sides. Different people have different points of view on the same matter. By interacting with them, you’d put yourself in someone’s shoes for a moment, learning to be understanding and tolerant, improving your communication skills.”
Construction sector: full of opportunities
Construction industry is one of the pillars in Hong Kong’s economy and Daniel is optimistic about its outlook. Yet, projects have become more and more complicated involving state-of-the-art technologies that advance in lightning speed. That’s why he believes a construction manager should incessantly acquire more professional knowledge. “In the past, building projects began with a team of architects who acted as the consultants. They then hired contractors and construction manager to only execute the building tasks. Nowadays, more projects are originated by the contractor who is in charge of both design and build. A construction manager has to oversee the design as well, meaning we now have to take care of more responsibilities across more disciplines than before. On top of that, smart buildings, robot-assisted transportation and construction, building information modelling (BIM) and modular integrated construction (MiC) have been gaining popularity in the local building sector. While they greatly enhance efficiency and safety of construction works, they also require a new wealth of knowledge on the construction managers’ part. That’s why we must learn humbly and be open to challenges,” Daniel said.
Last but not least, Daniel didn’t forget to encourage VTC students. “All VTC students are down-to-earth, willing to start at the bottom and not afraid of hard work. VTC programmes are highly regarded in their respective industries and graduates are equipped with various skills and knowledge. They are ready to perform their jobs right from the moment they are on board and employers never hesitate to hire them.”