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Education

Diverse routes to management success

by Jessica Lam

Winco Yung, associate professor
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Photo: Edde Ngan

As engineering technology becomes increasingly complex and sophisticated, greater interaction will be required between related disciplines in future

Engineering students typically emerge from university well equipped with textbook knowledge to enter their chosen discipline. However, those with a vision to rise into management positions can benefit greatly from further educational opportunities to step up their communication and leadership skills.

"Almost every product on the market requires integrated engineering to be competitive," notes Winco Yung, associate professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). "It is no longer enough for engineers to stick strictly only to one discipline."

A mobile phone, for example, is the result of a blend of mechanical, electrical and industrial engineering, as well as materials science and technology. At the same time, a competent manager needs to consider the bigger picture, including cost, return on investment, production timeframe, design, manufacturing and logistics.

"If you want to be a winner, you need to manage your operation and your product very well," Dr Yung says. "There is therefore a high demand for management engineers that can effectively run all aspects of the operation, as well as manage the people involved."

Holistic context

PolyU has a specialised postgraduate programme in integrated engineering, targeting newly qualified as well as more experienced engineers wanting to advance in their careers. The curriculum covers a broad base of engineering knowledge, management and leadership skills, innovative concepts, project management and costing models.
"The programme prepares fresh graduates to move into management positions when the opportunity arises and helps working engineers that lack interdisciplinary and management expertise to earn promotions," says Dr Yung.

It comprises seven subjects, including three compulsory areas of study focusing on costing models for the engineering sector, engineering management and on increasing competitiveness through innovation. There is also multi-disciplinary group projects. The aim is to develop students' communication skills to help them engage more effectively with counterparts in a working situation.

The group project is the equivalent of a dissertation and requires four students from different disciplinary backgrounds to work together to innovate a new consumer product. This entails the formulation of product marketing strategy, designing the product, designing for manufacture, as well as drawing up a marketing and advertising strategy and sourcing distribution channels.

Project groups consist of students with various levels of work experience from a mix of engineering sectors. Each participant gets the chance to lead at least one of four tasks within the group.

"The projects simulate real-life engineering scenarios where team members are given projects to manage from conception to launch," points out Dr Yung. "Students learn to communicate and work with their colleagues of different engineering expertise, look at tasks from different fields of specialisation and work together to ensure the success of a product in the market."

With integration as key focus, students are supported by the faculty's full complement of more than 200 staff specialised in various aspects of engineering.

Faculty staff often incorporate real case studies when challenging students to solve engineering problems, for example, dividing participants into groups to look at how large mobile phone manufacturers manage to develop multiple product lines in one year. Site visits to companies also help students combine classroom learning with practical experience.

Management skills

When designing the integrated curriculum, PolyU consulted industry leaders and learnt that engineering graduates and even young practising engineers were generally perceived as somewhat lacking in management and communication skills, Dr Yung says. Although new recruits tend to work well independently, there is room for improvement when it comes to effective communication.

The programme addresses these issues, cultivating competent engineers with generic management and teamwork skills. Such abilities are particularly useful in a world where cost is not longer the main factor when it comes to industry competition, but innovation and timing are crucial.

"Hong Kong entrepreneurs think big and aim for major markets. Over time, smaller companies that are less competitive will be acquired by larger, more effective corporations and within five to 10 years only those with the best human resources will remain active. This is why we want to nurture competitive and all-round engineers with good management skills for the industry," Dr Yung concludes.

Future prospects

  • Technical skills no longer enough for engineers
  • Postgraduate curriculum covers broad base of knowledge, management and other skills
  • Communication and leadership skills help engineers move into higher positions

Taken from Career Times 30 April 2010, B2


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