Engineers can benefit from frontier mentality

by Nicole Wong

San Lee, managing director, MRI Worldwide Hong Kong Limited

China beckons for professionals with technical and business skills

The prospects for professional engineers in China continue to look bright and suitably qualified candidates in Hong Kong can almost pick and choose between the numerous attractive openings on offer. San Lee, managing director of MRI Worldwide Hong Kong Limited, a leading recruitment company, confirms that if engineers have a solid technical background, practical experience, and equip themselves with all-round business skills they will be ideally placed to embrace the challenges and opportunities that exist across the border.

While the demand for mid-ranking to senior engineers is relatively stable in Hong Kong, it is on the upswing in the mainland market. Many positions related to manufacturing have been relocated to factories in China, since investors see the sense in having staff based close to the point of production. Similarly, project managers may still be officially based in Hong Kong, but are likely to spend much of their time on site in the mainland.

"Over the last two years, there has been strong demand for engineers with technical ability, marketing skills and a good command of English, and we predict this trend will continue," Ms Lee says. "Of the various sectors within the industry, electronics, R&D, manufacturing and tooling show the biggest demand for middle to senior-level engineers, and most of these positions are China-based."

Comprehensive skills

Apart from their professional qualifications, the new generation of engineers is expected to have excellent interpersonal skills and an understanding of cultural differences. These are needed to communicate effectively with colleagues, manufacturers and international clients. A high level of proficiency in both Chinese and English is therefore essential. Ms Lee points out that most employers now expect candidates to have a good understanding of the mentality, work practices and legal systems which apply in the mainland as a further prerequisite.

"There are major differences between business practices in Hong Kong and China," she explains. "These may cause last minute problems and unexpected situations if you do not thoroughly explain expectations. For example, you must ensure there are agreed strategies or contingency plans for each phase of a project, or else partners in China may simply inform you that something cannot be finished just before the production deadline."

To collaborate successfully, Ms Lee advises Hong Kong professionals to make a special effort to understand any cultural differences. "It is important to show an appreciation of alternative perspectives and to adjust expectations to fit in with local working procedures," she adds. "It also pays to be tactful when communicating what you want."

With foreign investment still flooding into China, engineers who have experience working with multinationals are highly sought after. In this respect, candidates from the Hong Kong market are preferred, since the general perception is that they have good international exposure and better organisational skills, as well as integrity and a strong sense of business ethics.

Essential attributes

Ms Lee emphasises that engineers keen to advance their careers should seriously consider a move to China and points out that they should take the time to prepare well for interviews. She suggests that candidates should not only research their prospective employer's company history and recent corporate performance, but should also try to gather information about their likely interviewers and prepare a few success stories to demonstrate their own abilities, attributes and achievements. They should be able to present these examples with confidence and at an appropriate time. In addition, candidates should prepare a list of intelligent questions that will help them understand more about the position they are applying for and create a favourable impression with interviewers.

"For example, you might ask about the main performance measures for the position or the major challenges the successful candidate will face in the next 12 months. The answers will give you a clearer picture of the company's ambitions and current business direction," she explains. Candidates can also ask for an interviewer's opinions about certain market trends as a way of demonstrating their own understanding of current issues or adding pertinent comments. However, Ms Lee states that it is best to avoid any overt criticism of one's present employer or colleagues. "Whatever you have to say, remain calm, mature and positive during the interview," she says.

An additional attribute most employers now look for in prospective employees is the sense of ownership. "It makes a huge difference when candidates demonstrate an attitude that shows they would care for the employer's business and work hard for its success," Ms Lee explains. This is especially true in multinational operations where projects are being completed in different time zones and require constant local supervision and the exercise of initiative. "For engineers, a solution-driven mentality is another winning quality, since employers greatly value employees who can identify problems and be relied upon to come up with viable solutions," she says.

The future is now

  • Engineers with the appropriate level of professional experience can look forward to good career opportunities in mainland China
  • In addition to technical expertise, strong business acumen is essential
  • Any engineers planning a move should take full account of cultural differences and the need for language proficiency in both English and Mandarin
  • Even for those with the necessary qualifications and personal attributes, it is important to prepare well for the interview process

Taken from Career Times 29 July 2005
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