Far from routine, lab work needs patience
Each day, Hongkongers consume truckloads of food, drugs, cosmetics and other products. Like invisible guardians, men and women working in laboratories across the city ensure the safety and quality of these items.
Dr Kelvin Leung, assistant professor at the chemistry department of the Hong Kong Baptist University, says the city’s testing and certification system is well-respected and highly sought-after globally.
“Hong Kong laboratories used to accept many jobs from Western countries,” he says. “In recent years, many mainland companies have sought the services of Hong Kong laboratories because we are reliable and have a good reputation.”
To work as a laboratory technical officer, one needs a higher diploma or degree in chemistry or science-related subjects, Leung says.
“Newcomers usually start as assistant technical officer. They prepare and analyse samples. They can expect in-house training on how to operate various equipment and the standard steps for tests. One must be patient and have an analytical mind because test results take time to develop,” says Leung.
Laboratory work is far from routine, though many think it’s just repeating standard procedures, he adds. “Technical officers must ensure the quality of products, so they test many items each day. It is very challenging and not routine at all. The data generated are not just figures – they require technical officers’ professional judgment on whether the product is safe or not,” he says.
Officers wanting to move up to the next level as managers have to finish a master’s degree in chemistry or a related discipline. On top of this, they must have at least three years of work experience. “After an officer is promoted to a supervisor, he or she has to manage junior staff and make sure that their work complies with quality control. They have to know about ISO systems – a quality standard practised by all laboratories in Hong Kong,” says Leung.
Laboratory technical officers usually work eight to nine hours a day. Overtime is common, especially in September and October when lots of products must be tested before entering the market by Christmas. Some laboratories operate 24 hours a day and employ three shifts.
Leung notes that with steady – if not growing – demand from the mainland and beyond, job prospects in the testing and certification industry are rosy. “The starting salary for newcomers is around HK$12,000. Experienced technical officers can earn up to HK$18,000. Some laboratories are giving out generous bonuses and some officers receive up to 16 months’ salary a year,” he says.