The strong economy of the last two years has given Hongkongers more disposable income and triggered greater demand for goods and services. This has had a beneficial effect on the overall job market and, in particular, has opened up many new opportunities for engineers.
At 3M Hong Kong, for example, technical staff have seen sales rise and been inundated with product enquiries from customers, which has led to the need for additional hiring. The company is part of the diversified multinational that has divisions for consumer and office goods, display and graphics; electronics and communications; health care; transportation, safety and security services. Among its thousands of products are face masks, which became such a common sight during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
"Before that, you rarely saw masks worn in public, but now people wear them if they have a cold or flu to avoid infecting others," says Thomas Chow, human resources and office administration manager of 3M Hong Kong. "Also, the awareness of hygiene at home and in the office has greatly increased, resulting in greater use of sanitary products."
Mr Chow adds that the company has also seen a surge in sales in many other areas.
These include items featuring electronic technology for infrastructure projects in the Pearl River Delta, office equipment and high-tech projectors, neon lights for outdoor advertising displays, and products for the home such as polarising task lights. These are especially popular with students because they create no glare and are not harmful to the eyes.
The company employs a team of around 12 specialist engineers and recently launched a recruitment drive to find new talent. As most products are manufactured overseas, engineers generally work closely with the 120-member sales and marketing team in order to resolve technical problems, advise customers, and assist with the implementation of large-scale projects.
"Our engineers are involved in the pre- and post-sales part of the process," says Mr Chow. "When customers are not getting the results they want from one of our products, the technical staff step in."
To do this effectively, engineers must not only have the relevant academic qualifications, but should also be innovative in the way the company has exemplified ever since it was established over a century ago.
"Working for us, engineers have to be sufficiently flexible to make modifications to products, must meet customer requirements, and should have the sort of attitude which makes them willing to help others," says Mr Chow.
This combination of attributes is not always easy to find and, on average, only one out of every five applicants makes the grade. In most cases, successful candidates will have at least two to three years' work experience, but vacancies do also exist for recent university graduates for whom starting salaries are around HK$12,000 a month.
The usual career path leads from the position of technical engineer to advanced and then senior engineer, and the company follows a policy of promoting internally wherever possible.
In 1902, five men set out to mine a mineral deposit for grinding-wheel abrasives close to the town of Two Harbours in Minnesota, near Lake Superior in the USA. The deposits they found proved of little value for the originally intended purpose, but rather than abandoning their venture, the men came up with the idea of sticking the deposits on to sheets of paper and using the resulting product for cleaning and polishing.
They went on to form the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, now commonly known as 3M, and began to sell their new sandpaper products. Through further innovation, the application of technology and sheer hard work, many other products were subsequently developed and today 3M manufactures more than 60,000 different items, which are sold to customers in over 200 countries.
"Perseverance, ingenuity and creativity have made 3M's first 100 years a century of success," Mr Chow notes.