A recent report by the Trade Development Council said that the electronics industry is Hong Kong's largest earner from sales of export merchandise and that the sector accounted for 48 per cent of total local exports last year.
This clearly indicates that manufacturers are continuing to respond to the challenges of a highly competitive market and that a focus on efficient management systems and strategic development is paying off. These factors have made it possible to react quickly to changing customer demand and keep pace with international market trends.
Farnell Components (HK) Ltd, the local office of a UK-headquartered company, is a good example of the dynamic companies which typify the sector. It is a leader in the marketing and distribution of electronic items, as well as maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) products. Customers can choose from over 250,000 electrical, electronic and industrial products for same-day despatch from the company's warehouses in Asia, the UK and the US.
"We take pride in carrying products that balance creativity and market needs," says Samson Luk, who is business development and sales supervisor. "This ensures that we focus on products that meet actual demands."
Like many local manufacturers, the company has shifted its focus to value-added and more capital-intensive products in order to compete effectively in international markets. This also reflects Hong Kong's general shift towards upscale design and development and away from low-cost production.
We want people who can solve real-life problems, not just discuss theories they have learned from books
What first drew Mr Luk to the business was his passion for electronics. "If I saw something damaged, I always wanted to fix it," he recalls. "The first thing was at least to repair it and try to make it work again. Later, I started thinking about possible improvements."
He notes that electronics or mechanical engineers should always be considering ways to make a product better. This takes initiative, and it also helps to have experience from working in different industries, which can provide alternative perspectives and all-round skills. "There is nothing wrong in staying with one company for 30 years, but the down side is that it may limit knowledge of the outside world," Mr Luk says.
These days, the company focuses mostly on the mainland and obviously keeps in very close contact with the various production centres. "Hong Kong-based staff may spend on average a day a week visiting China-based companies," Mr Luk says. "They need to be fully up to date with order progress and production processes, so that they can keep our clients well informed."
Graduate engineers hoping to join the company should now be ready to face fierce competition from mainlanders, who are fast improving in terms of both efficiency and general competence. This will soon make it more difficult for Hong Kong-trained engineers to create a special niche and position themselves for certain jobs. Therefore, it is more important than ever that graduates have the correct attitude from day one and understand the demands they will face.
"Currently, the strongest demand is for professionals with middle-management experience," says Mr Luk. "What we look for is the ability to understand the products quickly and to present ideas accurately to the team and to clients, since these skills are crucial to success."
He adds that hands-on experience is the most important thing, but that there are also regular training sessions for staff to strengthen any weaknesses and give newer recruits all the essential skills. "We want people who can solve real-life problems, not just discuss theories they have learned from books," Mr Luk emphasises.
In his view, the best engineers are self-aware and have the self-esteem needed to present themselves and the company in the best possible light. "Actions speak louder than words and you must be ready to prove yourself every day," he says. "People should be prepared to commit themselves 100 per cent to the job."