Engineers on the move

by Mary Luk

As the regional economy continues to improve and technology develops at a rapid pace, the prospects for ambitious engineers have rarely looked better.

According to technical recruitment consultants, the number of jobs available has surged since the Lunar New Year holiday, prompted in part by the decision of some engineers to seek greener pastures after banking their bonuses. Companies which laid off staff and were forced to retrench in recent years are once again hiring briskly in order to cope with expansion. In fact, market estimates indicate that overall engineering vacancies are up around 20 to 30 per cent compared with this time last year.

Manufacturers in the electronics and toy industries, for instance, have seen increased orders from overseas in the first quarter for consumer products, hard, plush and electronic toys. Consequently, there is renewed demand for project engineers plus electronic and mechanical engineers, as well as those with relevant research and development experience.

Additional manpower is also being sought for projects, processing, communication networks, product development, procurement and sourcing. The positions available cover every rank from technician to engineering manager and director.
Degree holders with three to five years' hands-on engineering experience are in greatest demand. Such professionals can usually settle in quickly and put their skills to immediate practical use. Despite the need for talent, some companies are still reluctant to invest significant resources in training more junior staff.

Eric Lin, managing director of 01 Technical Consultants Limited, a market leader in engineering recruitment services, says a Bachelor's or Master's degree in a relevant subject is a prerequisite for any candidate to be considered by a multinational or listed company. "This is to ensure that the quality of staff is up to shareholders' expectations," he explains. He also notes that employers expect engineers to be committed, proactive, well organised, self-motivated and to possess good communication and presentation skills.

Since there is limited growth potential for certain disciplines in Hong Kong, a clear trend has emerged for local engineers to pursue opportunities in mainland China. "Even if they are not stationed there, they should be prepared to travel frequently," Mr Lin stresses, adding that China's total investment in engineering projects is naturally far higher than Hong Kong's

More hiring

The signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) has also had an impact. With many suppliers and OBM/ODM manufacturers able to benefit from tariff exemptions, business is booming and hiring has picked up. Mr Lin confirms that one knock-on effect has been more jobs for engineers working in sales and marketing functions, R&D, procurement, quality control and intellectual property protection for high-end products.

There is a particular need for engineers who are adept at understanding the intricacies of new technology. The rapid evolution of advanced features means that products like computers and mobile phones have shorter lifespans, and the technology behind them can be modified for other uses. A world is being created for us which works by means of remote control devices, data transfers and digital applications. "It is therefore essential for engineers to upgrade their skills and keep up with the latest developments in technology," Mr Lin advises.
If intending to find work across the border, Hong Kong engineers must also be ready to compete with the local knowledge of professionals in China and the experience offered by returnees who have studied and worked abroad.

In general, Hong Kong has sufficient trained engineers to meet its own demand, but there is an acknowledged lack of expertise in metal finishing and precision tooling. Talent from countries like Singapore, India and the US tends to fill these posts. Looking ahead, demand for specialists in factory production and electronic manufacturing, as well as technical sales and marketing, is expected to escalate.

Whole package

Engineering students and recent graduates will soon find that, when it comes to job offers, those with summer work experience are usually preferred. Edmund So, general manager of Besteam Personnel Consultancy, a leading recruitment services provider, says that at least seven out of ten graduates should face no problem finding a job this year and can expect starting salaries of around HK$8-10,000. Those in the civil construction sector may get HK$11-12,000.

However, when hunting for jobs, Mr So warns: "Fresh graduates should not just focus on the pay and having a convenient location. They should look at the training programme, chances for further study and the promotion prospects. Many graduates are wary of working in China, not realising that is where they can find the best learning opportunities."

He emphasises that, prior to any job interview, applicants should research the company and the industry it is in. "Many candidates are unsuccessful because they have no idea what the company and the position are all about," he notes.
Unlike some members of the older generation, modern engineers accept that their role involves dealing with clients and making sales presentations. Excellent communication skills and language proficiency, as well as knowledge of other cultures, are therefore prerequisites for those starting out on a career.
Both Mr Lin and Mr So recommend that graduates should consider joining small or medium-sized companies to gain hands-on experience in a wider range of disciplines than is normally possible with a larger employer.

Experience preferred

  • General improvements in the economy have led to increased demand for engineers
  • A willingness to work in mainland China will definitely enhance career prospects
  • Employers closely consider all previous work experience
  • Advances in technology make it vital to keep learning
  • Graduates should consider starting with a smaller company in order to get broader experience

Taken from Career Times 18 March 2005
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