Engineering talent made for export

by Ella Lee

Raymond Leung, vice president, operations, Hayco Manufacturing Ltd

China's manufacturing boom is driving the demand for E&M engineers from Hong Kong who have a broad range of specialist skills

The major manufacturers of toys, consumer electronics and household electrical appliances are making sure there is a constant demand within industry for electrical and mechanical (E&M) engineers. Their specialist expertise is needed for three different roles: design and development, implementation and project follow-up, and product testing and troubleshooting. But, no matter which branch of industry or which position they work in, E&M engineers must, first and foremost, be dedicated to achieving constant improvement.

This commitment is necessary for the growth of companies and individual engineers, says Raymond Leung, vice president, operations of Hayco Manufacturing Ltd. He believes that engineers must be proactive and set themselves high standards, focusing not just on product enhancement but also on achieving more efficient processes. "For example, we should move forward with international benchmarking rather than sticking to local or mainland standards," he says.

Engineers should have well-honed critical faculties and an open mind. Good analytical skills are required for everything from evaluating and implementing product designs to testing and problem solving. An open attitude helps in learning from others and from one's own experiences. "Professional engineers tend to have a strong ego," says Mr Leung, "but they must make sure it does not prevent making progress."

A trained engineer should constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve. "They should work scientifically and systematically with a clear method rather than by trial and error," adds Mr Leung. To reinforce this idea, Hayco continually offers its engineers training in the design of experiments, the application of industrial processes and the latest plastic technologies. The intention is to allow engineers, who learnt certain concepts in school, to apply them in a more practical environment and the overall feedback is always positive.

Global view

Because of the shortening life cycle of electronic products, engineers face the challenge of keeping up with rapid changes in technology and consumer expectations. Therefore, Hayco has developed an "externally focused" culture also geared towards improvement. They aim to match the best international standards, recruit talent from around the world and send staff to overseas exhibitions and seminars to learn about the latest technologies and industry trends.

As part of their basic training, all technical staff and managers learn what are defined as 18 key elements. These include items such as statistical process control and production validation and assist in creating a methodological approach towards work improvement.

In order to provide the right technical environment, significant investment has been made in advanced hardware and software that supports engineering work. A "selective laser sintering machine" costing millions of dollars is now used for rapid prototyping and MoldFlow, a computer-aided engineering program, for which the licence alone can cost over HKD1 million, is provided for engineers to predict the performance of high-precision moulds and components.

Huge opportunity

With the mainland's continuing manufacturing boom, there is a huge demand for E&M engineers. Hayco, therefore, started their own trainee programme in China two years ago to hire 50-60 graduates each year. In the first two months, new recruits learn about corporate culture and the functions of different departments. After this, there is a two-way evaluation which usually results in around 70 percent of the trainees being retained and offered an initial two-year contract.

Unlike for electrical and mechanical engineers employed by the government or public sector, formal professional qualifications are not as essential in the private sector in Hong Kong. A certificate in E&M - not even a university degree - may be enough to enter the field since experience counts for most. "Compared with a fresh university graduate, an experienced engineer with lesser academic qualifications is sometimes preferable," notes Mr Leung.

Although most engineers build up expertise and industry-specific knowledge as part of their long-term career development, Mr Leung says they should start as all-rounders to understand all aspects of manufacturing. For this reason, Hayco gives trainee engineers exposure to each department including even supply chain management and factory operations.

Hong Kong needs more E&M engineers and Mr Leung points out that nowadays it is important to be willing to travel for work. On average, Hayco's engineers spend 60-70 percent of their working time on the mainland. "Local candidates must make additional efforts to adapt to the mainland environment," he says. "Hong Kong engineers have an advantage over their mainland counterparts with better language and communication skills and wider exposure but must be prepared to use these talents in China."

Hayco currently has a dual track for engineers to develop their careers either on the technical side or in management. There is a tendency for people to shift into management rather than serving as life-long engineers, which is more common in other countries. "Some people are attracted by managerial titles," says Mr Leung. "However, it is best to make use of one's own interests and strengths. An engineering team leader with five to six years' experience is already as senior as an assistant manager."

Taken from Career Times 23 April 2004
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