The learning never ends in multidisciplinary job
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in construction management from PolyU was just the start of Alex Cheung’s education. The honorary treasurer of the Hong Kong Institute of Facility Management (HKIFM) then joined a non-government organisation involved in redevelopment projects as a building service engineer. “After my first few years of work experience on various kinds of facilities, I had gained a greater interest in building services engineering systems and facility management,” he says.
He describes how he then sought additional qualifications. “Lifelong learning is of paramount importance to a knowledge-based society like Hong Kong, so I have strengthened my knowledge and widened my horizons through further studies, as well as by joining professional institutes such as HKIFM. Now I’ve also got a diploma in housing management and a master’s degree in facility management.”
Cheung says he was attracted to facilities management (FM) because of the way it involves the integration of people, work processes and physical assets to serve an organisation’s strategic objectives. “As a discipline, FM is the science and art of managing this integrative process – from operational to strategic levels – for promoting the competitiveness of organisations. I like to meet people and pride myself on my customer-care service skills. And I enjoy resolving difficult situations,” he says.
With increasing energy costs and growing concerns about the environmental impact of existing facilities, the major challenge for today’s FM managers is reducing the client’s carbon footprint. “We are spending significantly more time managing our organisations’ environmental issues,” Cheung says. “We have to find better ways to manage waste and to consume less energy overall.
Facility managers must keep abreast of changing technology, such as advance control and communication technologies, and building information modelling.”
Last year, Cheung worked with another engineer on a technical paper called Energy Portfolio Management and Optimisation.. “We tried to develop a comprehensive approach to energy reduction in chiller plant systems, as they occupy nearly 50 per cent of the energy consumption of buildings. After extensive research and computer simulations, we were able to take advantage of the power company’s bulk tariff scheme to lower the energy costs of the central air conditioning systems in some hotels. It was a highlight of my career.”
George Chan, associate director of building consultancy Knight Frank, was a building surveyor before joining the FM sector. "I got started about 15 years ago, when it was a relatively new discipline. I think it has a bright future – infrastructures are getting more complicated, with a large number of facilities that require specialised knowledge to manage. FM provides another career opportunity for engineers and surveyors.”
Most of Chan’s clients are property developers looking to manage their properties more cost-effectively. The challenge for him is to work with different types of infrastructure at various stages of construction.
“Not all the projects are involved with existing infrastructures. For example, I recently worked on the Central Police Station Revitalisation Project. The premises are special – a mix of retail, food and beverage, and cultural space. With construction still underway, there are a lot of unknowns.
“I had to make use of my experience to provide solutions to enhance the building. Budgeting, security and crowd control are the main areas I worked on.Clients have different objectives they want to achieve, and FM managers need to act accordingly.”
Chan advises people interested in a career in FM to have an open mind as it is a multidisciplinary field. “As an facilities manager, it is not enough only to excel in your own field; you need to have knowledge of different fields,” he says. “Don’t limit yourself – the more areas you know, the better you will be at your job.”