Among local industries, the watch industry has developed well through the years, making Hong Kong a major watch manufacturer worldwide. Although lower production costs may have caused local manufacturers to move their production lines to mainland China, the industry is still ardently supporting educational institutions in training young people to lead the industry in future.
To meet industry demand, the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Lee Wai Lee campus) has established a Higher Diploma in Horological Science and Technology course for young people wishing to join the industry, according to Ho Ching-Tak, head of the institute's Department of Engineering Management and Technology.
This three-year, full-time course targets Form 5 school-leavers and covers English, mathematics and computer knowledge, plus basic engineering subjects such as physics, electronics and electro-magnetism. Management technology subjects - including purchasing, sales and marketing, e-business and logistics - and specialised subjects such as horological theory, CAD technology for watch design and after-sale services - are also included.
Its aim is to answer industry requests for more candidates with a thorough knowledge and comprehensive training. Indeed, the course enjoys the support of two associations, the Hong Kong Watch Manufacturers Association (HKWMA) and the Federation of Hong Kong Watch Trades and Industries (FHKWTI).
In the past, industry-joiners learned their skills from their masters and formal training was non-existent, adds assistant lecturer Raymond Liu. Since the diploma is based on employers' recruitment needs, employers know what kind of candidates to expect.
On graduation, students can become designers, merchandisers, engineers or technical sales executives - or enter other positions, says Mr Ho. Career prospects are optimistic, as watch manufacturers are likely to expand their business following the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA).
As nearly all production lines are mainland-based, frequent travel should be expected. Both Mr Ho and Mr Liu believe students are highly likely to work as assistants, based in Hong Kong but travelling frequently to the mainland. "Further study will be one problem if they need to be stationed on the mainland," Mr Ho admits.
Meanwhile, those interested in taking a bachelor's degree can consider enrolling on four-year, part-time evening courses at local tertiary institutions such as the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
However, for people already in the industry, a watch course, Practical Training on 3D Parametric Watch Design, is available at the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC). Arnold Poon, a consultant from the HKPC's Manufacturing Technology Division, says this is designed to enhance watch design effectiveness and efficiency and notes that most students are watch designers or engineers.
The course also has HKWMA support, as manufacturers recognise 3D CAD/CAM technology's increasing popularity in watch design and manufacture. While most Hong Kong watch manufacturers use 2D design tools, other industries - such as toys and electrical appliances - have been using these technologies for some time, says Mr Poon.
Since many watch manufacturers are small- and medium-sized enterprises and some employees simultaneously cover design, marketing and engineering, 3D application knowledge offers a career boost. "It is especially good for junior designers, as they don't have much experience and practical knowledge in manufacturing," Mr Poon says, adding that the course enables them to turn an idea into feasible products.
Indeed, 3D applications should become popular within the watch industry as design has an important role to play. While mass production was once standard practice, today one watch design may be developed into just a few dozen to 100 watches and designs therefore change very frequently.