An engineering career at ATAL means development, recognition and success
One of Hong Kong’s few home-grown electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering firms, Analogue Group of Companies (ATAL) is marching strongly into its fourth decade as it aims to implement new business expansion plans while maintaining its commitment to delivering top-quality products and services.
Established in 1977, the specialist group has become a successful market leader by winning the trust of its clients. It has 16 subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China that employ a total of 2,500 staff, while its international presence extends to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. It is the only contractor in Hong Kong that provides a comprehensive range of electrical, mechanical and environmental products and services, with business activities including:
● Building services
● Environmental engineering
● Data centre infrastructure
● Intelligent and green building solutions
● Lifts and escalators
● Integrated ICT solutions
● Healthcare engineering
● Maintenance services
● Engineering equipment
“Leveraging on our total capability in electricial and mechanical enginnering, we are also a market leader in the building of data centres in Hong Kong,” says Ir Dr Otto Poon, Chairman of ATAL, citing the company’s more than 50 per cent market share of local data centre projects. “We have successfully built and operated data centres for a number of leading international banks in the city.”
ATAL leads the market in environmental projects, with over half of Hong Kong projects in this category developed and executed by the company. Among other innovations in this area, the group has developed in-house, patented process technologies for waste water treatment, with a focus on enhanced cost-effectiveness and sustainable development.
Poon explains, however, that ATAL does not simply strive to grab the biggest market share. “Our business philosophy is to deliver the best quality in terms of technical complexity and quality. For instance, we have worked with large real estate developers that have their own engineering specialists for E&M [electrical and mechanical services] and fire safety. They prefer ATAL because they enjoy our high standard of safety, quality and service.”
Grooming young talent
In Poon’s opinion, the quintessential engineer should approach challenges theoretically before working on any project. By doing so, it can ensure all business units are aligning with the Corporate Strategies in four key areas: maximising cost benefits, maximising business value, maximising technical benefits and having a positive impact on the environment. At ATAL, such a mindset also helps engineers to stick to the corporate value: “We Commit, We Perform, We Deliver.”
ATAL believes in career development from within and shows its appreciation to employees who dedicate themselves to grow with the organisation. As example, three young graduates from university who joined the company in the early 80s are now Directors of the company, each responsible for a business unit. It seeks passionate, high-calibre, innovative individuals who strive to achieve outstanding results. At entry-level, the company offers graduate trainee and apprentice programmes with specialised curricula. It expects to recruit 30 graduate trainees and 40 apprentices this year.
Applicants for graduate trainee positions should be engineering graduates with a degree in either building services, electrical, mechanical, environmental or chemical engineering. Successful candidates will go through the two- to three-year Scheme “A”
Training programme accredited by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). Each graduate trainee will be assigned an engineering supervisor who will provide regular coaching and guidance. They will undergo job rotation that gives them all-round exposure to various disciplines and functions.
ATAL’s apprenticeship programme targets students pursuing a diploma or higher diploma in vocational education from the Vocational Training Council (VTC). Successful candidates will become either a technician apprentice or apprentice, and go through a three- to four-year Apprentice Training Programme. Apprentices will be enrolled in relevant part-time day-release courses offered by the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education. To ensure effective learning of practical skills, the apprenticeship incorporates a mentorship system into the regular in-house workshop training and trade tests.
In addition, ATAL provides selected technicians and engineering assistants holding diplomas or higher diplomas with financial support to study for relevant engineering degrees. Around 200 employees at ATAL are at various stages of intensive training every year.
As part of its succession plan, ATAL has implemented several well-structured, fast-track development programmes. The plan targets all-round professionals with excellent technical competence, business knowledge, communication and management skills.
Employees with high potential are selected for the High Flyers Development Programme. It covers the enhancement of vital soft skills such as interpersonal and communication skills, and a project in place to reinforce the skills learned. “We want to broaden the minds and horizons of these high-flyers and give them exposure to aspects of business operation other than their specialised fields,” Poon says.
Further up the corporate training ladder lies ATAL’s executive development programme, which takes on selected participants from the High Flyers programme to groom them for management positions. The company engages external consultants and specialists to develop advanced training courses focusing on leadership development, people management and innovation.
Outstanding employees are given the opportunity to join informal networking events with senior management. Apart from offering experience sharing, these social activities also sharpen the communication skills of junior staff. “These social occasions help employees to think on their feet while engaged in conversations with senior executives,” Poon says. “The positive impact is that they will become more confident and broaden their exposure.”
A mentorship programme is integrated into all of ATAL’s continuing talent development initiatives. Senior executives, including Poon, actively participate in the programme as mentors for junior employees.
“I mentor six graduate trainees,” Poon says. “Mentorship is essential in talent development because it helps mentees identify what they need to accomplish at various stages of their careers, as well as our expectations of them. I help my mentees review what they have done, what CPD events they have attended, and what their major takeaways are, with special emphasis on career development.”
Unique among local engineering firms, ATAL has recruited an acclaimed specialist to help develop its in-house training programmes. Professor Francis Yik, previously a part of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s faculty of engineering, joined the company in 2013 and has developed a number of technical training programmes in conjunction with the company’s senior management.
Employees can also enrol in courses to continuously develop their soft skills and raise their standards of service and competence, in line with HKIE requirements. The company wants all staff to feel that its corporate culture encourages lifelong learning. “We want them to constantly equip themselves with new skills and knowledge. I take every opportunity to remind my staff that knowledge acquired belongs to them for the rest of their lives,” Poon says.
This is not just for the good of the company. “ATAL is a well-established E&M engineering firm. We feel we have the responsibility to sustain the healthy development of the industry. That’s why we invest a lot of resources in training and skills development.”
Regardless of their field, each employee can apply for training sponsorship to upgrade their skills. This training sponsorship scheme has been designed to encourage employees to sharpen their skills and professional knowledge, which improves their capabilities and advances their career development.
”We do not take a top-down approach to training,” Poon says. “Our corporate training is similar to the approach taken in the HKIE programmes. We review how much the participants have accomplished every month, in what areas they are lagging behind and what the company can do to help them catch up.”
Career paths for each staff member are put in place which provide ample opportunities for career advancement, whether vertical or horizontal and within or across different business units. “ATAL provides clearly structured career road maps for individual employees,” Poon explains. “For instance, there are six grades for frontline staff, from apprentice to supervisor. For professional engineers, there are seven grades, starting from graduate trainee at entry-level, to assistant engineer, senior engineer and project managers. In our structure, compensations and benefits are commensurate with the different grades.”
ATAL employees recognise the company’s contribution to talent development both with the company and across the sector as a whole, Poon says. “I believe our employees are proud of being members of ATAL. We have participated in HKIE’s Scheme ‘A’ programme since its debut over 30 years ago and have trained many professional engineers in Hong Kong.”
ATAL’s future development is in line with “the day after tomorrow” vision. It is a long-term strategic planning to cope with the global threats and opportunities. In pursuit of business expansion and development, these threats and opportunities will become the key focus of the company development to tackle the problems of: global warming, demographic, urbanisation and environment.
The company is uniquely positioned to develop its business in these four areas. “These global trends will provide challenges and opportunities for the further growth of the Group,” Poon says. “But it is imperative to have teams of high-calibre professionals to achieve our growth plan.”
Key to this vision is trust. “I have faith that my staff will strive to do their best, within their capabilities,” Poon says. “I trust my staff and support their empowerment. This is how we drive our company to be more dynamic and energetic, and as such, micro-management is unnecessary. Over the years we have won the trust of our clients. We have built a reputation for quality and service as we always honour our promises and deliver top quality.”
Japanese companies to send female staff for overseas assignments. Many of our senior positions are filled by females, including department heads for compliance, operation, credit control, syndication loans and re-engineering,” he says.