While advances in technology cut down the number of manual labourers required for a job, the demand for highly skilled workers engaged in areas such as product design, research and development increases.
As a leading manufacturer of electronic dictionaries and other handheld information devices, Group Sense (International) Ltd (GSL) is continuously expanding its workforce and has an ongoing need for more creative engineering talents.
GSL chairman Samson Tam explains, "We are continuously developing our electronic dictionaries, PDAs, smart phones, and GSM and Wi-Fi products, and we have increasing collaborations with our newly acquired partner, Group Sense Japan, on a series of local projects related to handheld terminal products. This takes a lot of brainpower."
Many people believed that with the rise of China, engineering in Hong Kong was doomed. There was a perception that technical staff would have to move to the mainland or overseas but the emergence of Hong Kong Cyberport and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks has helped to demonstrate that this is not the case. "While most manufacturing takes place on the mainland, the designing is done in Hong Kong so there is much demand for talented engineers and project leaders to work with us," Dr Tam says.
Hong Kong is now in an era of technological integration with the manufacture of various product components and strategic planning taking place locally, so the competition for bright minds is fierce. "It is becoming more difficult to hire the right person who has the technological know-how and is passionate about engineering," Dr Tam says. "The supply is constant with fresh engineering graduates coming out every year but opportunities in the finance industry, particularly for system, software or mathematics engineering, have led to a higher demand for engineers."
To counter this and make engineering attractive to graduates, Dr Tam notes there have been changes throughout the industry. GSL has adjusted its salary scales to make them more competitive, developed its training programmes and even sent employees overseas to gain valuable international experience.
"We appreciate that most engineers are looking at the whole employment package so we offer extensive training to our staff," he says. "This has helped us to attract many new recruits, especially younger graduates who are eager to learn."
The company's new relationships in Japan have provided fertile grounds for staff development and some employees have spent a few months there experiencing the atmosphere and innovation in what is perhaps the world's foremost technology hotspot. Connections in Thailand, too, have proven beneficial to staff seeking to experience life and work outside of Hong Kong. In fact, according to Dr Tam, the opportunities are plentiful if the candidates are willing. "They can go to Europe too, if they have the desire, and in doing so Hong Kong can become a hub for technological products in Asia bringing people and knowledge together," he says.
Dr Tam believes that Hong Kong graduates should capitalise on their strengths such as language skills. "Local graduates are best placed in this industry since they can converse with buyers all over the world and participate in endless training opportunities conducted in English and also liaise with factories on the mainland. They are the most qualified for all aspects, particularly project management."
Such project management entails three aspects: communications with mainland and overseas partners to define specifications; schedule control to meet the products' life cycle from point of conceptualisation to delivery; and quality assurance. "Our senior engineers lead teams of five to 10 people, talking to customers around the world and working closely with our factories in Dongguan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. They are also heavily invested in quality assurance, where there is an utmost need for a leader's devoted attention as we simply cannot outsource this aspect of the work," Dr Tam explains.
Far from being the domain of robots and factory workers, engineering demands creativity and foresight. This is particularly obvious when a product's life cycle is considered. "Smart phones, for instance, take nine months to produce and then only last for six months on the market until the next product eclipses them," Dr Tam says. "To keep up with this pace engineers need to have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening with trends and fashions in society, what the technology is capable of, and what will be possible and worthwhile a year from now."