Property / Construction

Engineering careers back on track

by Nicole Wong

Ir Dr Greg Wong, principal, Greg Wong & Associates Ltd

Civil engineers gear up for new roles as the construction industry stages a turnaround

From harbour front reclamation to the West Kowloon project, large-scale construction work has been the talk of the town for the last couple of years. While some people are concerned about whether such projects can contribute to the growth of the local economy, property developers and engineering professionals are waiting to embrace every new opportunity, as the industry returns to prosperity following recent hard times.

According to Ir Dr Greg Wong, principal of Greg Wong & Associates Ltd, the construction sector has recovered from its low point in 2003 and is well on the way towards steady growth. While certain developments have been postponed because of radical rethinks or public disputes, improvements in Hong Kong's financial fortunes should see some exciting new projects taking shape in the near future.

"As interest rates stabilise, the private property market should also pick up. Local construction sites that had been temporarily put on ice are now being re-opened," says Dr Wong. "New development opportunities will spring up in Macau and China as well."

While there has been a surplus of civil engineers due to the economic stagnation which affected the construction industry in the past few years, there is currently new demand for fresh graduates who want to enter the profession, provided they are adaptable.

Dr Wong points out that most entry-level positions for civil engineers are now in areas such as property maintenance and inspection rather than in large-scale projects like the Chek Lap Kok airport or extensions to the MTR.

"From a certain perspective, there is now less emphasis on project planning work and design. The salary level for new recruits may also be slightly lower, revolving around HK$10,000 per month," says Dr Wong.

Solid ground

For those who want to kick-start their careers, Dr Wong firmly believes in joining companies that provide comprehensive on-the-job training. At his own firm, all incoming trainees go through the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) Scheme A Training — a three-year programme that covers essential knowledge in safety, environmental protection, technical matters, legal regulations and professional ethics.

Young engineers also receive guidance from a mentor and there is a quarterly review of individual performance. Upon completion of the programme, candidates sit the HKIE membership examination, in order to become qualified engineers.

A long-term career in the profession should be based on ambition tempered with realistic goals. Dr Wong says that young graduates should have a genuine passion for their chosen industry. "They must also learn to build up their skills step-by-step and work their way through different projects with both caution and flair," he says.

Good communication and interpersonal skills are important attributes, since civil engineers need to co-operate with architects and site managers, as well as property developers and business partners. "They should be willing to listen to and understand other people's needs while being prepared to compromise when necessary," notes Dr Wong.

With the diverse roles available to civil engineers, candidates can expect interesting professional development opportunities as they progress in the industry. Apart from specialising in technical functions, they may also take up project management responsibilities in private or public construction works. Such duties can involve public relations skills and communication with private enterprises and government authorities.

A wide range of job opportunities is also available in the property development and civil sector. Those with entrepreneurial flair can even aspire to setting up their own companies or acquiring shares in expanding enterprises.

When considering the best way to develop a career on the mainland, Dr Wong suggests setting medium- to long-term goals because most engineers who move north are senior managers with established Hong Kong property developers. The majority of construction and property developers in China fill engineering positions locally, unless they are co-operating with foreign investors and need candidates with higher English proficiency and a global perspective. "However, HKIE succeeded in getting our structural engineers recognised by the mainland authorities and is working on obtaining recognition of qualifications of other disciplines," says Dr Wong.

Constructive progress

  • Improved government finances should see new projects starting while stable interest rates will stimulate growth in the property sector
  • Entry-level positions for civil engineers are usually in specific functions such as maintenance and inspection
  • The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers Scheme A programme provides comprehensive on-the-job training for people with ambition and realistic goals
  • Engineers should set medium- to long-term goals for career development in the mainland market

Taken from Career Times 17 March 2006
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