Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Structure of the future

The big volume of infrastructure work testifies to how vital engineers are to the city – and vice versa

New bridges, roads, tunnels, rail systems and other infrastructure projects fuelled by more than HK$70 billion expenditure on capital works has been keeping Hong Kong's engineering sector extremely busy, but it also raises questions as to whether this level of massive investment will last.

While a powerful engine for economic growth, until recently long-term forward planning for the engineering sector mainly depended on large-scale infrastructure projects.

Speaking to the Hong Kong Construction Association (HKCA) in April, Secretary for Development Paul Chan said it is the government's conviction that infrastructure fosters economic development and enhances the city's quality of life. "We anticipate that capital works expenditure will stay well over HK$70 billion for each of the next few years," Chan said.

With six Arup-engineered projects chosen as "Hong Kong People Engineering Wonders" in a voting campaign organised by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), the firm's management says engineers can look toward to a bright future.

Arup director Fergal Whyte says winning projects including the Stonecutters Bridge, Harbour Area Treatment Scheme and the Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel indicate the wide spectrum Arup engineers play in Hong Kong everyday life.

About 2,000 employees from a total global workforce of about 11,000 currently work in Hong Kong. "The relatively high percentage of our workforce based in Hong Kong signifies the volume and diversity of projects taking place," notes Whyte.

As global designers, engineers and business consultants, the firm is always thinking ahead by training and sustaining a supply chain of talent, Whyte says. For instance, he adds, projects including the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Bridge and the Sludge Treatment Facility - Hong Kong's first commercial-scale standalone renewable energy supply system, which Arup is involved in - are prime examples of the evolving demand for engineering skills.

Adding strength to the sector, Hong Kong produces engineers who are in demand locally, regionally and beyond. "It is critical universities continue to produce top graduates, and that companies like ours provide them with professional training and career opportunities," Whyte says.

With employee retention nearly as important as recruitment, Arup places emphasis on training and development. In addition to on-the-job training, a key component in the career development opportunities is the Arup University.

"Programmes are offered daily and weekly all the way to master's level," says Whyte.

With close connections to many of Hong Kong's major infrastructure projects dating back 60 years, URS Hong Kong (rebranded following the acquisition of Scott Wilson in 2010) understands the importance of developing a pipeline of engineers for the future.

"URS is actively working to maintain a steady supply chain of engineering talent for our current workload and the short- to long-term future," says Mark Raiss, URS managing director, Hong Kong and South East Asia.

Raiss adds URS future planning takes into account the cyclical nature of Hong Kong's engineering and construction industry.

"In fact, we are seeking highly capable engineers for our work in water, wastewater, highways, waste management, building structures, utilities, transport planning as well as quantity surveyors," says Raiss.