Traditionally, there are two main areas in civil engineering: consultancy that focuses on design and construction that is practical building work. Despite the difference in the two fields, there is a trend for convergence benefiting the entire industry, says Noriman Mak, Managing Director of Hong Kong Construction (Technology) Limited.
"A civil engineer needs to have both a sound theoretical background and engineering knowledge of application," says Mr. Mak. In the early stages, a basic training in consultancy is an asset for a graduate engineer but practical knowledge from the construction side is also important for solving real-life engineering problems. A practical mindset is also essential to solve problems within a team and reconcile the interests of different parties.
Mr. Mak started his career as a Geotechnical Engineer with leading consulting firm Ove Arup & Partners working in Hong Kong and then Australia. He returned to Hong Kong to join the Airport Authority briefly, and his venture into the construction world started in the mid 1990s. He is currently in charge of a specialist contractor with leading technologies for engineering applications.
Civil engineering as cross discipline
Beyond the convergence of consulting and construction, civil engineers should also be skilled in other disciplines. "They should learn from other fields such as electronic engineering, environmental and information technology, and be innovative in our own industry," says Mr. Mak adding: "Contrary to the general perception, civil engineering should be a pro-active science rather than a conservative one."
"We can do better. There is always a way to do better. Never be bound by rules, but strive for change and improvement."
An open mind, together with a willingness to learn, is also an important trait of a good civil engineer, says Mr. Mak. He thinks, the economic downturn made people more receptive to change, eager to look for ways for improvement.
In addition to a Master Degree in Science, Mr. Mak also obtained an MBA qualification, which is useful for his career development in the commercial world.
Mr. Mak thinks that engineers in Hong Kong easily become complacent. "Instead, we should be more inquisitive, acquire more solid experience and learn about new technologies for improving our own work and, eventually, society." Mr. Mak's current 'Geofiber Technology' for 'green slopes' in Hong Kong utilizing the concept of weaving fabric and soil for vegetation on slope is a good example of engineering frontier technology to create a better living environment for mankind.
Despite a declining property market, Mr. Mak still maintains a positive outlook for civil engineering in Hong Kong, which he believes will be driven by demand for continuous maintenance and upgrading works rather than new constructions.
Mainland China will offer huge opportunities for infrastructure construction in line with the economic boom there. The Beijing Olympics alone hold the promise of civil engineering work worth US$14 billion.
Mr. Mak believes that Hong Kong consultants and contractors offer the added value of high-standard professional management and innovative work that still cannot be found locally.
Compared with other Asian and foreign players, Hong Kong engineers are considered a better cultural match to work in China. Mr. Mak says. "We do have advantages because China has opened the door to Hong Kong much earlier than anywhere else."
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