We may not be aware of it, but mechanical engineering is part of our daily lives. Inside a building, the water and electricity supply systems, ventilation system, elevators and many other facilities are all supported by mechanical engineers.
Even in the case of something as ordinary as the coffee mug on your desk, the moulding involves engineering process.
The nature of the job covers a wide range of possibilities. Mechanical engineers can engage in design, construction, manufacturing,
maintenance, system integration, sales support, management, research and development or work in academic positions, explains Ir Louis Szeto, chairman of the Mechanical, Marine, Naval Architecture and Chemical Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE).
In recent years, there have been more job offers from consultancy firms, but government, public utilities and transportation companies, universities, technical institutes and private organisations are also important employers in the field, he says.
Although he describes the market demand for mechanical engineers as constant, Ir Szeto notes that the sluggish economy has dragged salaries down. "In the past, fresh graduates could start with HK$10,000 to HK$12,000. This was about four years ago. Now, the range is only HK$6,000 to HK$8,000," he says.
Solid foundation for career development
New recruits usually begin as assistant engineers or, sometimes, trainees. Promotion depends on individual performance but, generally speaking, engineers who perform well get promoted from entry level to engineer, then senior engineer, manager, managing director and finally chief executive officer. In consulting firms, managerial positions are called "associate" and "senior associate". Those with 10 years' experience or above can earn around HK$35,000 to HK$50,000, Ir Szeto adds.
Summer internship is encouraged by the HKIE. Indeed, large corporations are usually willing to offer such opportunities to engineering students, allowing them to gain experience over a period of three months. Although the HKIE does not actively help find placements for students, it organises career talks at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education and the local universities to help them understand job requirements and professional development.
Ir Szeto points out that many degree-holders are reluctant to start their career in a low position, expecting to enter the field at supervisory level. In fact, they should treasure the opportunity to train themselves. "A solid foundation is good for their career development," he says.
Creativity is important, while a willingness to face challenges is what a successful engineer should possess to be able to design, create and analyse different things to help solve everyday problems and advance human welfare, he continues.
Self-enhancement is necessary in career development: Since many companies, especially consultancy firms, are looking forward to exploring the mainland market, learning Putonghua is one thing that young engineers can do to improve themselves.
In fact, some engineers are already stationed in or required to travel frequently to mainland China. Opportunities are now found at power stations and in petroleum production on the mainland, according to Ir Szeto.
To ensure further advancement, management-level mechanical engineers should be prepared to improve their technical knowledge or obtain an MBA, he advises. They should also follow developments on the mainland closely - made easy by the many websites covering this topic. Managers should also be familiar with mainland legislation in order to avoid violations.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) offers many opportunities to enlarge one's scope by becoming acquainted with information technology, new mechanical facilities, new legal concepts and new inventions, among other topics. CPD requirements are between 30 to 45 hours a year for different types of membership.
Increasing competition from mainland Chinese candidates is inevitable and mechanical engineering is no exception. Ir Szeto sees this from another angle, however. He thinks that Hong Kong candidates should try not to view this as a threat but as an opportunity to learn from whatever they are good at and utilise their experiences of communication and interaction to help improve themselves - bringing dynamism to the Hong Kong economy again.