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Published on Friday, 31 May 2013
MTRC workers drill through rock to make way for another subway line for Hong Kong.
Photo: MTRC
Ir Chew Tai Chong

MTRC expert is solid on future of engineering

In the past five years, engineers arguably have become one of the most sought-after professionals in Hong Kong. And, as the speed of the city’s infrastructure development shows no signs of abating, engineers are assured of smooth career development up to 2021 and beyond.

“Certainly there has been intense demand for engineers, as well as construction workers in general, and I hope that this will reverse the brain drain of our engineers that we witnessed in the past decade,” says Ir Chew Tai Chong, projects director with the MTRC.

After a decade-long lull following the opening of the international airport, job opportunities have steadily increased since the launch of the government’s “Ten Major Infrastructure Projects” in 2008. They include five railroad projects by the MTRC, the Kai Tak and West Kowloon development projects, and the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Bridge.

How much this boost has stimulated the expansion of the engineering profession is illustrated by the fact that membership of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) has grown by 39 per cent from five years ago, while its Graduate Scheme “A” Training intake has increased by 40 per cent over the same period.

“Now is a golden period for the engineering profession, especially for young engineers, who have this excellent opportunity to hone their core skills and gain experience through these major infrastructure projects,” says the Singapore-born Ir Chew, who joined the MTRC in 2009.

The government has also conducted public consultations on seven local rail enhancements and three regional railway schemes. A railway project takes eight to 10 years to complete, from concept to design, planning and construction, according to Ir Chew. The upcoming projects will further boost demand for engineers and general construction workers over a longer time frame, he adds.

Ir Chew believes that government plans and projected spending beyond 2021 will help avoid “famine and feast” periods, and make engineering a truly sustainable profession.

“Overall, civil, electrical and mechanical engineers will benefit most, but a new railway project also benefits a number of other professions, such as geotechnical surveyors, architects and town planners,” he says.

There are plans for further development of public housing and even reclamation of land for large-scale housing projects.

“As more and more veteran engineers retire, there will be opportunities for our young engineers. It is important to encourage the younger generation to choose engineering as a career to ensure that the infrastructure development of Hong Kong can be sustained,” says Ir Chew, who was a steering committee member of Engineering Week 2013 held in April – the HKIE flagship event held to promote the engineering profession to young people and the community in general.

Ir Chew advises young people to develop multi-disciplinary skills, including those outside engineering. Among the various soft skills, communication is the most important as engineers must maintain a dialogue with multiple stakeholders to ensure that projects run smoothly and on schedule.

“They need to learn how to communicate, to motivate crew workers and contractors, persuade unco-operative stakeholders or deliver accurate information up and down, horizontally and vertically, so as to avoid miscommunication or interrupted communication flow,” he says.

It is also important to master management and interpersonal skills, so that they feel confident to take charge of an entire project.

Railway engineering is multi-disciplinary in nature and fields such as building services, civil, control, automation and instrumentation, electrical, electronics and mechanical engineering are all relevant to railway engineering.

The HKIE seeks to enhance the level of professionalism through the accreditation of relevant engineering programmes and training schemes. It has recently accredited a Transportation Systems Engineering programme offered by Polytechnic University, the first accredited programme specifically aimed at railway engineers.

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