While some of Hong Kong's traditional industries have declined as a result of economic circumstances, the textiles and apparel sector has managed to strengthen its position and continued to enjoy unprecedented growth. This has led to an acute shortage of people with the required level of expertise in colour technology and chemical processes, which are a vital part of the business.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), which is the only local tertiary-level institute offering the necessary professional training, produces a handful of PhD research graduates a year. However, to encourage more people to study related subjects, they have introduced a four-year double bachelor's degree in fashion technology and chemical technology, and this should attract more undergraduates to the field.
Dr Au Kin-fan, associate head of the university's Institute of Textiles and Clothing, notes that Hong Kong is the world's second-largest exporter of textiles and apparel products. In order to remain as a regional fashion hub and to compete effectively with other production centres, he says that more professionals skilled in colour technology and familiar with fashion design are desperately needed.
"Hong Kong holds the upper hand," Dr Au says. "Our industrialists are experienced, have excellent quality control standards and are quick in responding to market needs. Competitors in Southeast Asia and elsewhere are not as strong and labour costs make many European countries uncompetitive. China has great potential and can still produce more mid-range items, but Hong Kong can concentrate on the top end of the market, provided there are no problems with international quotas."
Anyone with a higher diploma in fashion and textiles studies or the equivalent can apply for the bachelor's programme, which is structured around different core subjects each semester. The institute plans to obtain accreditation for the course from the Textile Institute (UK) and the Hong Kong Institution of Textile and Apparel (HKITA).
Dr Au says, "We aim to produce competent professionals with balanced generic skills for the fashion business. They will be able to play an active role in the development of the fashion and textiles industry both locally and internationally."
Around 10 students will be accepted for each course intake, and Dr Au explains that applicants will require a strong academic background and good A-level grades in applied chemistry. Students will be taught technical skills in chemical colour technology and given a broad understanding of the business side of the textiles and apparel industry.
Those who subsequently want to specialise further can consider taking one of PolyU's master's or PhD programmes, which involve both practical and theoretical aspects of design and technology. Some of their research work, for example a study of fabrics undergoing metallic treatments, has given rise to unique designs using chemical treatment techniques. The university's postgraduates have contributed articles to numerous publications and, by mid-2004, had recorded 236 publications, 88 refereed journal papers, seven patents granted and two licensing agreements.
In state-of-the art facilities, they are trained with the latest technology in dyeing, printing and finishing. They will also learn about dye-house production management, in-house laboratory establishment and accreditation, product development, evaluation, colour control and communication. Practical work allows them to experiment with new fabrics and gain industry experience.
Dr Au says the research programme takes a full-time student three to four years and a part-time student six to seven years to complete. It requires dedication, and the later career options will include work in laboratories or dyeing factory environments, about which some people have reservations.
China, particularly in the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze regions, offers the most job opportunities for qualified graduates, often with Hong Kong-owned factories. Dr Au says that many Hong Kong graduates accept the need to work in mainland China, where living conditions for overseas employees have greatly improved.
"There are about 300 Hong Kong textile dyeing factories. Many are looking for highly skilled professionals to solve colour technology problems. They must also be innovative and have a thorough knowledge of dyeing materials," Dr Au says. He adds that PhD holders are likely to be swamped with job offers if they have the appropriate skills and professional outlook.
"Postgraduates will usually have a choice of companies to join," he says. Positions on offer are likely to include those as a department head, manager or even at director level, fetching a starting salary of up to $30,000 with later adjustments upon satisfactory performance.
Dr Au says that small and medium-sized textile manufacturing enterprises are now "vertically integrated". This means they operate the whole production process from spinning to fabric production to garment making. Research graduates will have the opportunity for extensive hands-on experience in joining any such company.
- People with expertise in colour technology and chemical
processes are in demand in the textile and garment industry
- PolyU is training research graduates in the field and
has also introduced a related BA course
- Graduates use the latest technology to research dyeing,
printing and finishing, and find practical applications
for use in the manufacturing process
- Those with appropriate qualifications can expect to have
a choice of job opportunities