Engineering a bright future
Barry Lee Chi-hong, associate director of ATAL Engineering, questions the belief that a career in finance or banking is always more lucrative.
"In the past two years, many engineering companies have been competing to recruit engineering students, and they are making good offers even to fresh graduates," says Lee, adding that in the past 15 years the mainland market has been booming and creating many opportunities for Hong Kong's engineers.
Locally, according to Christopher Chao, associate head of the department of mechanical engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), the upturn in prospects has not just favoured one particular category of engineer. "The recent expansion in the number of infrastructure projects in Hong Kong does not only benefit civil engineers, but also the large number of mechanical, electrical, building services and computer engineers that are also required," he says.
Chao says the most successful engineers are those who are persistent and stay in the profession. "Some of them may go on to become entrepreneurs and have their own companies, not just focusing on Hong Kong but developing a global portfolio as well."
Engineering used to be seen largely as a male preserve, but that seems to be changing. "When I was in college, we only had one female student in my class of 90 or 100 students," Chao says. "Now we have 20 per cent females."
One of this new generation of women is Camy Fong, who graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and obtained a master's in engineering enterprise management from HKUST last year.
Fong, who now works as an assistant engineer in commercial marketing at Towngas, believes an engineering degree can open up more than the obvious career paths. She says: "It is quite easy for engineering students to get into another industry, especially accounting and finance, where you still need to face a lot of mathematics and calculations."
Chao says local universities are helping to increase the options for engineering undergraduates with curriculum changes that provide a broader education. They are also devising ways to help more directly. For example, with the aviation industry booming on the mainland, mechanical engineering departments in many Hong Kong universities are thinking of creating minor programmes and options in aeronautical engineering.
While the salaries paid by Hong Kong's engineering companies are rising, the government is also doing its bit to encourage recruitment. Lee explains that, based on a quota, the government is offering sponsorship to companies that provide training for engineering students.
However, engineering is a discipline that still requires commitment. "Engineers have to solve problems and, if they are not passionate enough, it can be quite hard for a young engineer," Fong says. "But you can work on projects stage by stage, through design, construction, testing and commissioning, and feel a sense of achievement." Fong's ambitions are clear. She says: "I would like to strive for global sustainability and a more environmentally friendly future."
Institutions collaborate on sector showcase
- The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Mechanical, Marine, Naval Architecture and the Chemical Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department and other organisations will collectively stage Hong Kong Engineering Week from March 5 to 13.
- The event aims to promote public understanding of engineering and how nearly every aspect of the modern world relies on it.
- Seven events include a Young Inventor competition and an international conference.
- For more information go to www.engineeringweek.hk.