Building a career

Building a career

The path to becoming a construction foreman and, finally, a site agent takes at least 10 years

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Apprentice foreman Chan Kai-chi puts the finishing touches to a wall in Sheung Shui.
Apprentice foreman Chan Kai-chi puts the finishing touches to a wall in Sheung Shui.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
Chan Kai-chi was attracted by the prospect of the building industry. After he finished Form Five, he chose to study for a diploma in construction supervising offered by the Construction Industry Council Training Academy to pursue a career as a foreman.

Get started:

I joined the Contractor Sponsorship Training Scheme, so after completing the second to third level of the Higher Diploma Programme, I will spend another couple of years studying part time to complete the remaining levels of the diploma while working fulltime for a contractor.

The job of a foreman is to ensure the workers are building according to the demands of the engineers. I have to be familiar with the different steps of constructing a building. The training includes theories about the different building standards and practical skills, where I get to try my hand at building a wall, or painting.

Moving up:

After gaining my higher diploma qualifications, I will be promoted from an apprentice to an assistant foreman. The steps after that are foreman, senior foreman and site agent. A senior foreman usually has more than five years of experience, and a site agent has been on the job for more than 10 years.

Race to the top:

A good foreman has to know the building standards by heart so he can spot mistakes easily in case workers are not following the rules. It is important to spot a mistake before it happens, or the completed parts might have to be removed and rebuilt, putting the project behind schedule.

Rewards and benefits:

Monthly pay for an apprentice starts at about HK$10,000 to HK$12,000.

A day at work:

A foreman works six days a week from Monday to Saturday. I start work at 8am and will first go to the site office to check e-mail and see what tasks my supervisor has assigned to me. Then I'll take the blueprints and any related documents to the construction site.

I ensure workers are following the building plans. I also take note of the progress of the project. I always carry a measuring tape with me. This is the most important tool for a foreman, who needs to take measurements to ensure workers are following the standards of the design.

I also keep a detailed record of the progress of the project and report that to the engineers.

I usually spend the morning on site inspecting projects, and the afternoon in the office writing reports. Work ends about 6pm.

Jargon

Head cowboy: The term for a site agent, who is the lead foreman. In the past, site agents were workers with little education, and people would refer to them as "bulls". So the head cowboy was the head bull.

Measuring tape: The most commonly used tool by a foreman. It helps make sure workers are working according to standards set by engineers.

Fitter: People who repair machinery on the construction site.

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