Engineering the best way forwards
"On a work site, you meet tens if not hundreds of people, and you have to avoid misunderstandings at all costs. You even have to be good at the written language and the communication of engineering concepts by hand drawings," says Peter Ip, technical director at Dragages Hong Kong.
"You have to work with clients, consultants, sub-contractors and production staff. It's nothing but communication and teamwork."
Ip, who works for the company that first made its name in Hong Kong with the construction of the Kai Tak airport runway in 1955, has very clear ideas about the personality that best fits the industry. He bases this opinion on his 26-year experience with Dragages and other construction companies.
"Problem-solving is an equally important skill, as engineers are exposed to unconventional problems each day. And problems bring daily challenges - people have to be keen to accept challenges," he says, and to "take each challenge as an opportunity to learn".
The company recruits two kinds of candidates. One batch is Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) scheme A trainees. These applicants are thoroughly grilled, and have to show the right mindset, problem-solving skills, in-depth knowledge of what construction is about, and an all-rounded personality with wide interests that increase their creativity.
In three years, these employees will take the chartered examinations, and be rotated to a civil engineering site, a building site and a design office, where they will be seconded to a consultant.
Meanwhile, the other batch will not follow the HKIE scheme A training, but will rely on their supervisors to allocate them work they can handle instead. These staff members can also become chartered engineers, but for them, it will take about six years, with the downside being that their experience may be extensive in one area, but may lack the breadth of the HKIE scheme trainees who have undergone rotation.
"There is no fixed number [for recruitment]. We select on quality, and also on how much activity we have that year," says Ip. "There will be a shortage of talent as lots of big projects are coming up."
Indeed, activity is one thing the company need not worry about, as it has a list of large projects in Hong Kong ahead, including the cruise terminal building, the civil aviation department headquarters, a huge drainage tunnel, two express rail links and the MTR West Island Line.
Michael Cheung, method engineer at Dragages, on the MTR Express Rail project says: "To be a professional engineer, [you] need to have management skills, financial skills, and be familiar with safety concepts and environmental issues."
He finds dealing simultaneously with different tasks to be challenging, but loves the problem solving his job entails, and to see a project come to fruition from nothing.