Globetrotters are in luck
PICK a place where you’d like to live anywhere in the world. If you’re in the construction game, there’s likely to be a work opportunity there, or at least, not too far away. If you picked anywhere in Asia or the Arabian Gulf region, you’re particularly in luck. Booming development has left countries crying out for foreign construction workers, and employers are willing to put their money where their mouths are.
Penny Bingham- Hall, executive general manager, strategy for construction giant, Leighton Holdings, says their core overseas business involves infrastructure, building and contract mining.
And to break it down: ‘‘ In India, there’s oil and gas work. There’s a huge need for infrastructure. There are niche building activities there - we built Nokia’s first mobile phone factory there, and now the area is turning into a business park.
‘‘ In Indonesia, it’s in the resource sector, in mining and processes engineering. We’re also looking at some toll roads.
‘‘ In the Philippines there’s mining work, but we’re also looking at building opportunities.’’
In Malaysia, Leighton International has just finished building a big toll road. On the Western Pacific island of Guam it is building military facilities and infrastructure to support the relocation of US troops out of Japan. In Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia, it’s casinos.
The Leighton group is currently working on the $ 1.75 billion City of Dreams casino and hotel complex for the James Packer- backed Melco group.
‘‘ The building projects are amazing - very big jobs,’’ Ms Bingham- Hall says. ‘‘ They are also building entertainment complexes and theatres. There are thousands and thousands of people - now Macau has to spend more money on infrastructure to handle all the tourists.’’
In Dubai, Leighton Holdings recently bought a 45 per cent stake in one of the local contractors, Al Habtoor Engineering, the company which built the Burj Al Arab Hotel - the world’s tallest hotel.
Projects in Dubai range from hospitals through to hotels, mixed- use esplanade- style developments, resorts and airports.
‘‘ There’s a very broad range of buildings and civil infrastructure, and they’re desperately looking for people,’’ Ms Bingham Hall says.
Similarly, in Abu Dhabi and Qatar there’s an enormous amount of investment on infrastructure, tourist facilities, accommodation and commercial buildings.
‘‘ There are a lot of Australians over there, not just people working for us, but people in all areas, lawyers, and those working on the financial side of things,’’ Ms Bingham- Hall says.
‘‘ There are also quite a lot of British, they’re all tempted over there by the exciting work and the pay.
‘‘ Resourcing construction projects has become a global issue, particularly in the last few years. It’s a very fluid environment. There are people in the Philippines attracted to go over and work in the Middle East, people in Australia going to Macau - there couldn’t be a better time to graduate.’’
Working abroad in the industry enables exposure to a broad range of projects, sometimes of a scale far exceeding those available Australia.
The perks are clear, but additional factors, such as culture, facilities and climate, need to be considered, according to Ms Bingham- Hall: ‘‘ In some places, like India, it can be quite slow to get some of these ( projects) moving.
‘‘ A coal mine in India is quite different to a coal mine in the Hunter Valley. It’s exciting because it’s starting out, but there are cultural and social challenges.
‘‘ When building relationships, it can take a long time to understand the local cultural environment and to build up trust when you’re working with different cultures.’’
Construction companies don’t always provide specific cultural training for expat workers - it’s usually something which gets picked up on the job. ‘‘ We have a core of people who have worked there for quite some time, so when new people come in they help with their induction,’’ Bingham- Hall says. ‘‘ When we’re looking for people to work in those areas, we’re finding the right people who are culturally aware and interested in the local cultures.
‘‘ Generally, Australians are fairly successful at adjusting. They have an egalitarian attitude to work and working together.’’
Some other factors which can pose a challenge include contracts not being written in English ( particularly in China), availability of clean drinking water, and traffic.
‘‘ In Bangkok there are legendary traffic issues,’’ Ms Bingham- Hall says. ‘‘ In Dubai as well the traffic is dreadful because the infrastructure doesn’t keep up with the building growth.’’
While some workers relocate to assist with a specific project and then return to Australia immediately, others stay for 10- 15 years, and there are others still who have found the conditions so appealing that they have been abroad for over 30 years, according to Ms Bingham- Hall: ‘‘ They are bringing back a different range of expertise - this experience gives them a competitive advantage.’’