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Reaching new levels

Published on Monday, 23 Jun 2014
The West Kowloon Terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is one of many projects making up a building “golden age” of over HK$70 billion of planned capital works that will keep engineers busy.
Photo: Dickson Lee
Raymond Chan
Lancy Chui

HK’s development splurge offers opportunities for both fresh graduates and experienced professionals.

Without the skills and expertise of professionals across a vast spectrum of engineering and technical disciplines, a modern city like Hong Kong would struggle to operate efficiently.

Raymond Chan Kin-sek, president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), says people only need look around them to see the crucial role that engineers play in everyday life. “People turn on a tap, electronic devices, travel to work on world-class transport systems and work in modern, highly functional buildings, and take it all for granted,” Chan says.

Because of this, he says, the engineering profession often receives negative publicity when projects are delayed or challenges encountered. In a bid to raise the profile of engineers and attract more young people to its various disciplines, the HKIE is taking steps to enhance the profession’s image and showcase engineering excellence. Chan says that through events such as “The HKIE Hi-Tech Fiesta 2014”, a drive is underway to reach out to the community and other stakeholders by showcasing engineering achievements and the application of technologies in various aspects of the profession.

“We want to raise the social status of engineers, arouse the interest of the younger generation in the engineering profession and encourage them to choose engineering as their career,” says Chan, who has more than 35 years’ experience in civil and geotechnical engineering.

With Hong Kong in the midst of what is often described as a construction “golden age”, Chan says the opportunities for engineers look promising. He says the government’s commitment to capital works expenditure of more than HK$70 billion over the next few years is good news for the industry. “In addition to new bridges, roads, tunnels and rail systems, other infrastructure projects, including large-scale public housing schemes and the Kai Tak development project, will keep Hong Kong’s engineering sector extremely busy.”

He adds that there is currently strong demand for both site and structural engineers. “As mega-construction projects mature, the demand for engineers follows a pattern. It begins with geotechnical engineers and civil engineers and moves on to mechanical and electrical engineers,” he says.

State-of-the-art building projects on the mainland are also creating a demand for Hong Kong-trained building and structural engineers. “Our training programmes and the experience engineers gain in working on complex projects in Hong Kong mean they can work just about anywhere in the world,” he says. He cites as an example the large number of Hong Kong engineers who were snapped up by international construction companies working in the Middle East when the 2003 Sars outbreak brought the local construction sector to a standstill.

To help young engineers advance their careers, Chan says the HKIE offers several incentives. These include scholarships allowing engineers, usually below the age of 35, to travel overseas to study master’s degrees, management programmes and industry-specific courses. The HKIE has also set up a scheme that allows engineering trainees to fast-track their careers to become fully fledged HKIE corporate members in four years, instead of the traditional six.

Following graduation with a recognised degree, trainee engineers are provided with three-year structured training programmes by companies approved by the HKIE, followed by one year’s post-training experience. “The system works well because we are able to ensure that graduate engineers receive high-quality training, while employers are able to attract the cream of engineering graduates,” Chan says.

However, while trainee engineers can fast-track their training, Chan says people looking to join the profession still need to work on their maths, communication and interpersonal skills. “Engineers need to work with professionals across many different disciplines, including the media and even politics, so they need to be able to communicate clearly,” he explains.

Lancy Chui, regional managing director at workforce solutions firm ManpowerGroup Greater China, says a wide range of housing, railway and infrastructure projects are currently soaking up many types of skilled professionals, including engineers. She says government projections indicate the industry will require around 10,000 extra skilled workers in the next four years if it is to meet its commitments. “Right now, the emphasis should be on candidate attraction, training and retention strategies,” she says.

She adds that several data centres soon to come online in Hong Kong, and an expanding dependence on technology, is driving demand for IT professionals. Also, in addition to the long-standing presence of foreign multinational companies putting pressure on the availability of Hong Kong IT staff, mainland companies are now establishing data centres in the city for storage and routing.

“Accordingly, labour gaps exist in the IT sector, where talent possessing just two year’s technical experience or above are in demand,” Chui says.

According to ManpowerGroup’s recently released 2014 Talent Shortage Survey, IT workers ranked third in the top 10 job categories that Hong Kong employers have difficulty filling. As an example, Chui says that given the high number of people using mobile devices, including mobile internet banking services, demand has risen for IT candidates with mobile-development expertise. At the same time, regulatory requirements continue to drive the search for IT talent across banking and insurance. Demand is also buoyant for in-house IT professionals to manage relations between IT departments and other business units. Airlines, insurance companies and legal firms are all examples of organisations that use these services in Hong Kong and across the region.

Meanwhile, with the announcement in March that a further 23 global and local technology companies are joining the Phase 3 development of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTPC), a range of new IT jobs are expected to be created.

“With our expansion in Phase 3, we will be creating many more jobs in research and development fields,” says Allen Ma, CEO of HKSTPC. He adds that talent is one of the key drivers for the development of Hong Kongand that is a major reason why HKSTPC has been putting so much effort into helping to transform the tech industry by creating an environment conducive to innovation.

Levering HKSTPC’s R&D resources, TCL Corporation, one of the park’s three largest partners to date, will set up its major international R&D base in Phase 3, aiming to attract global R&D experts and further its reach into the major markets across Asia-Pacific. TCL will also continue to partner with local universities and research institutes with whom HKSTPC has long-standing collaborations on design, process and product innovations.

Keen to promote clean technology and make Hong Kong a cleaner, smarter city, new companies moving into the Phase 3 development include several green technology firms. HKSTPC says the new companies will continue to boost the park’s role in driving the development of green technology in Hong Kong and reinforcing its position as a “Hong Kong national high-tech industrialisation (partner) base for green technology”.

With the first part of Phase 3 expected to be fully operational this year, and the rest due to be finished in batches by 2016, the Science Park will be home to almost 500 companies employing more than 10,000 engineers, scientists, R&D specialists, technology entrepreneurs and support staff.

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