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Preparing for adventure

Published on Monday, 03 Mar 2014
Engineers play a key role in designing and building infrastructure, while rapid technological change makes constant learning vital.
Photo: Bloomberg
Victor Cheung

Engineers willing to take career risks can go further and higher

It's a good job Victor Cheung, senior vice-president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) and director of engineering consultancy J. Roger Preston, holds hard work in high regard, as the Classified Post Career Forum will be keeping him busy.

On the day itself, Cheung will be on a panel of speakers in one of the "CEO Sharing Conference" sessions and, following on from the forum, he'll also be one of the bosses involved in the special "Shadow a CEO Programme".

In a CEO Sharing Conference talk entitled "Tooling up for engineering careers and future developments", Cheung will be joined by Joseph Choi, vice-president of the HKIE and managing director of Hsin Chong Construction Group, and HKIE president Raymond Chan, who will act as moderator.

"I will be giving a brief overview of the engineering industry and the career prospects in it, and I will also share the story of my personal career development," Cheung says. "Lastly, I will tell [attendees] what qualities a successful engineer needs and the challenges they will face, such as long working hours."

Cheung believes engineers play an essential role in society. "A lot of the infrastructure of Hong Kong has been designed and built by engineers. So, apart from earning a decent living, as a successful engineer you gain recognition and job satisfaction - even though people often take a lot engineering projects for granted. When you turn on the tap you expect water to come out, but it's taken the hard work of engineers to bring water to your home," he says.

He points out that engineers have made a vital contribution to everything from the local sewage discharge system and the MTR to power stations and hospital buildings - "everything that enables ordinary people to have a good quality of life," he says.

Of course, engineering is an incredibly broad field. The HKIE recognises a total of 21 engineering disciplines and there are even more besides.

However, according to Cheung, all engineers share a lot of common ground. "Though the technical skills required are different depending on the engineering discipline, the fundamentals are the same - you need analytical and problem-solving skills and you need to be on a continuous learning programme," he says.

As its name suggests, the Shadow a CEO Programme will give a maximum of three selected applicants the chance to spend several days shadowing the working life of a top boss from Hong Kong's accounting and engineering industries.

"The one who is shadowing me should obviously have a passion for engineering and want to find out what the industry is all about," Cheung says. "But I am also looking for people who are sociable, curious and have good communication skills."

He says that his "shadow" will gain an insight into his business and what is required to run it. "A good CEO must be a good listener and have a broad vision," he says. "Otherwise, how do you lead an organisation?"

When it comes to those both setting out on their career and in the early stages, Cheung has some words of advice about the decisions they have to make. "You have to have short- and medium-term development goals. You don't, though, have to worry about the long-term at this stage, because that goal could be forever changing," he says.

"You have to think carefully about choosing a job with a high salary over one with good long-term prospects, and you should also be prepared to take a job outside Hong Kong. People feel very comfortable living and working in Hong Kong, but there can be good prospects elsewhere. So be prepared to be adventurous."

He adds that while changing jobs can broaden a person's experience and allow them to learn about different working methods and cultures, they shouldn't change jobs too frequently. "When I receive a résumé I hate seeing that someone has been a job-hopper. You have to stay with a company for at least three years in order to learn and achieve something with them - six months or one year doesn't give you anything," Cheung says.

And what does it take to get on the fast track to the top? Besides the basics, such as good time management and a willingness to work hard, Cheung lists some of the attributes a potential high-flyer needs.

"They should also be a good team player and able to work with people at all levels. They need to be curious and therefore willing to learn, try new things and think outside the box. They should always be prepared to do a bit more than they are asked to do and they should be very adventurous," he says.

"Continuous learning and professional development are essential these days, as technology is moving so fast," he adds. "To climb the ladder you have to equip yourself. If you have developed your skills, you will be prepared if one day you are asked to do something you didn't expect."

A willingness to be adventurous and work hard has been a fundamental part of Cheung's success. But he was initially propelled down the path to an engineering career by his parents' decision to apply for a place for him at Aberdeen Technical School.

"It was a difficult school to get into and not cheap," he says. "When I finished there in 1976, a lot of big construction projects were starting in Hong Kong and many of my schoolmates joined the construction industry. A lot of us joined Jardine Engineering, which was a very high-profile company at the time. After that, an opportunity came about when I saw in the newspaper that they were recruiting young guys to work in the United Kingdom on a two-year training programme. So I applied and got on it."

"I was working in the day and studying in the evening and I got my first degree in environmental engineering, and then my MSc in energy engineering at the University of Surrey. So I had a good start thanks to my parents, but I was adventurous - I wanted to learn and see more. It was a tough few years but it wasn't a difficult decision to go to the UK, as I had already set my goal and when the chance came I took it. I wanted to climb the ladder and progress in my profession."

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