Engineers must adjust to market conditions

by Mary Luk

Eric Lin, managing director, 01 Technical Consultants Limited

With skills which are in demand, Hong Kong-trained engineers can play a significant role in China

Consumers in Hong Kong have an ongoing love affair with any kind of new technology and find it almost impossible to resist products featuring the latest digital, wireless or remote control functions. This can be seen in the burgeoning number of outlets for telecom and electronic items in major shopping malls and by the crowds of young people eager to buy.

However, many of the new products have a comparatively short shelf life and are soon replaced by updated models which are either smaller, offer more functions, or are more user-friendly. This rapid turnover of products has created intense competition among manufacturers and retailers, which shows no sign of abating.

In order to survive and prosper in such an environment, companies have recognised the need to hire innovative engineers with the ability to design and upgrade their range of products. According to Eric Lin, managing director of 01 Technical Consultants Limited, which specialises in recruitment for engineering and technical positions, the greatest demand at present is from the manufacturing sector, buying offices and vendors. They need engineers for research and product development, procurement, and handling projects, especially for electronic, digital and RF items. There are also vacancies for qualified engineers in project management, process engineering, sourcing, quality control and testing. Further opportunities exist in technical sales and marketing roles for engineers with the relevant sales experience and also for those who are familiar with consumer electronic products and components.

"Applicants must have solid experience, updated technical knowledge, and be able to respond quickly to the market," notes Mr Lin. "They should have a record of proven achievement in design or in producing items that appeal to consumers or have industrial applications. Employers look for hands-on experience and a stable career history, showing that the person usually stays with an organisation for at least three years."

Apart from having an excellent academic background and related technical and IT skills, candidates should have a responsible personality and be committed to the job. Good communication skills and a professional outlook are preferred, since most engineering positions are now more customer-focused.

Home improvement

With the current strength of Hong Kong's economy, Mr Lin sees demand for such engineers continuing. He also says that, like in the US and Europe, more technology will come into the home as new apartments are equipped with digital remote control systems to control lighting, cooking and alarms. These all require experienced engineers for project handling, installation and maintenance.

However, he warns that career prospects are not great in all areas of engineering. There has been limited job growth in construction and telecoms because of the shortage of large government and private sector projects, and the prospects for fresh graduates are not too bright. Mr Lin estimates that only about 60 per cent of engineering graduates can expect to find employment straightaway. "Not many companies are willing to train graduates," he says. "The available vacancies often specify that recruits must have at least three years' work experience in the same industry, so that they can assume responsibilities from day one. Graduates with experience from summer jobs or specific projects at university have a better chance." Mr Lin therefore advises undergraduates to sign on for internships whenever possible in order to gain broader exposure.

The overall situation has not been helped by employers in mainland China gradually adopting a localisation policy, thus offering fewer opportunities for junior engineers from Hong Kong. Part of the reason is that young graduates in China receive a monthly salary of about 1,000 to 3,000 yuan, while those from Hong Kong would expect at least 7,000 to 8,000 yuan. What adds to the competition in some disciplines is that mainlanders with high academic qualifications are now looking for jobs in Hong Kong.

Starting out

Graduates who do secure a job with a local company usually begin as technical assistants or in junior support roles. They should expect frequent travel to the mainland and are likely to get starting salaries ranging from HK$8,000 to HK$11,000. If stationed in China by a Hong Kong employer, they may also receive hardship allowances equivalent to several thousand dollars to cover their accommodation and travel expenses.

Mr Lin says the current oversupply of engineers for certain technical sectors is likely to continue. It is related to economic factors which affect business growth and, in particular, the volume of new construction and infrastructure projects. "The government and the tertiary institutions should constantly review the situation in order to have better control of the supply of graduates," he suggests.

Nevertheless, engineers with the required type and level of experience can still play a significant role in the China market. Their professionalism, knowledge of quality management, and ability to communicate with overseas business partners in fluent English give them an advantage. Many mainland engineers do not yet have this combination of skills and it will take some time to acquire them.

Mixed picture

  • Strong demand for qualified engineers with experience in procurement, design and manufacturing of consumer items
  • More technology in homes is creating a need for professionals to handle installation and maintenance
  • The construction and telecommunications sectors have yet to see a significant increase in openings for engineers
  • New government and private sector construction projects are needed to give the profession a boost
  • Graduates can improve their employment prospects by completing internships, as employers prefer to hire those with proven or practical experience

Taken from Career Times 18 November 2005
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