Engineering profession gears up for new challenges

by Wing Kei

Ir Dr Greg Wong, president,The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

To advance their careers, engineers in Hong Kong must be ready to go where the work is

By the time they obtain their professional qualifications, engineers have already completed many years of academic study, training courses, and assignments to gain on-the-job experience, but they realise that is just the start.

"Competition is always there in the engineering sector and, as a professional, you have to make sure you are ready to compete," says Ir Dr Greg Wong, president of The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). "An engineer can be good at the job in Hong Kong, but also needs to target doing top projects in China, as this is the way to develop and make a name for oneself." He explains that there are 16 major disciplines within the field of engineering including distinct areas such as civil, structural, mechanical, information technology and geotechnical. Demand in each of these disciplines tends to fluctuate according to the ever-changing needs of the overall market.

For example, Ir Dr Wong points out that currently there is a surge in demand for engineers to work in the construction sector in Macau, while demand for professionals in the IT sector has been on a downward trend ever since the dotcom bubble burst. "Economic and social factors can affect the general work environment for engineers, so we have to remain aware of how the market is likely to change," he says.

Nowadays, this means in particular that engineers in Hong Kong should look for ways to capitalise on new opportunities that will emerge as either a direct or indirect result of the expanded CEPA agreement. This will grant easier access to the mainland market for Hong Kong-based service companies and for an increased range of locally made products. "It has been difficult for some local companies to enter the Chinese market, but engineers should keep an eye on new opportunities which may be created now that the playing field is more level for competing in China," says Ir Dr Wong. He adds that members of the profession should always be motivated to develop new skills and strengths, which will help their career advancement and give them an obvious competitive edge.

New agreement

The HKIE itself is now planning to arrange a more extensive mutual recognition agreement with the relevant parties in Beijing, so that members in Hong Kong will be able to work more easily in the mainland. This will help to create additional job opportunities for the institution's roughly 20,000 members and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas. It will also represent another step towards raising the HKIE's profile and general standards within the profession.

"Engineers trained Hong Kong are considered to have certain advantages, including broader experience and a more international perspective," Ir Dr Wong says. "However, the situation may change as our mainland counterparts improve, and we should prepare ourselves for that." He explains, though, that closer cooperation with mainland partners will lead to a better working environment and a more open exchange of industry-related information, which will benefit everyone in the long run. "Engineers know that they have to be ready to follow their companies and their clients into emerging markets," he says.

This is seen as an accepted part of the profession and means that any engineer must be self-motivated and enthusiastic about the job. Other common characteristics of those in the sector are a perfectionist streak and a desire to take on new challenges.

Business context

"Engineers may not be able to change the economic situation, but they realise that adaptability is one of their strengths and a key to success," says Ir Dr Wong. "They also recognise the importance of thinking not just about the technical aspects of their work, but also understanding the broader business context, in order to make the most of the opportunities that come up."

The HKIE is now teaming up with universities in Hong Kong to work on developments affecting the profession. "As the industry continues to change, we also have to make sure our members have more channels to obtain information and communicate their ideas and suggestions," says Ir Dr Wong. Consequently, the institution is organising a range of seminars and courses to provide members with both hard and soft skills which will assist their career development.

"Our members are expected to upgrade themselves continuously and must be willing to keep learning throughout their working lives," he adds. "Technology is changing every day and all engineers have to be up to speed." Therefore, the HKIE has also introduced a formal programme for continuous professional development. "The intention is to have a more dynamic approach to ongoing study for the engineering profession in Hong Kong. This will enable engineers to realise their individual potential and become more competitive in the job market."

Forward progress

  • Engineering is a competitive profession which requires individuals to continue to upgrade their job skills
  • The expanding China market offers new opportunities which are a good way of gaining broader industry experience
  • Engineers should be adaptable and have a high level of self-motivation in order to succeed
  • The HKIE is working with the mainland to fix mutual recognition agreements for professional qualifications
  • It is important to have an understanding of the general business environment as well as specific technical skills

Taken from Career Times 18 November 2005
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