Engineering a career in public service
For one thing, it is well equipped to prevent landslips or provide geotechnical services for infrastructure development, and geotechnical audits for government and private development projects.
The standards of the department that deals with man-made slopes are such that it even receives overseas visitors eager to learn about the latest slope management techniques.
The CEDD hires about eight fresh graduates and 10 to 12 experienced engineers every year. Bachelor degree holders from the University of Hong Kong's department of earth sciences may apply, as can those with a background in engineering or geology. All candidates receive thorough training and assistance in passing the necessary professional examinations.
Experienced employees fall into the categories of civil engineers or geophysical scientists, and usually have a consulting background or work experience on private developments, such as site formation, foundation work, excavation, and tunnel construction. The requirements are four to five years' work experience, and professional qualifications.
"Geotechnical engineering is a special field," says GEO deputy head Pun Wai-keung. "They need specialised knowledge and experience."
He says that soft skills are also very important, and that applicants should be co-operative, enthusiastic and well prepared for change and challenges.
The job is popular, and the CEDD receives many applications, says Pun. As a government position, it offers stable employment. The engineers are at the forefront of slope management, and are often asked to be keynote speakers at international conferences.
The different aspects of the job include engineering works to prevent landslips, and providing geotechnical services for infrastructure projects, such as ground investigation and laboratory testing, controlling the use of explosives, plus geotechnical design services for other departments.
"They also provide controls on private projects to ensure new constructions are safe," Pun says.
An important part of the job is the provision of emergency services. There are two levels of emergency, and usually those on-call stay at home on standby. But in case of a declared emergency and landslide warning by the Hong Kong Observatory, those on-call have to operate from the emergency control room, be it day or night, to advise the police or the public, inspect dangerous sites or help evacuate residents at risk.
"It can be very challenging. You have to have good communication skills. You have to calm people down, and be skilful in getting the right information," says Pun, adding that staff need to prioritise situations according to the risks they pose.
To keep everybody on their toes, there is an annual training session on emergency work before the onset of the rainy season.
Soft skills are very important and regular training includes handling complaints and media queries, public engagement and consultation. Staff are also trained in team-building, decision making and handling stress.
To satisfy the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers' requirement for continuous professional development, the CEDD offers its employees technical workshops and seminars.
Every year, one staff member is sent overseas to do a postgraduate degree course at a prestigious university, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or London's Imperial College.