Even though we don't always realise it, the chemical industry touches our daily lives in many different ways. From the paint on our walls to the clothes we wear and the plastic products we buy, chemical processes are involved in the development and manufacture of countless everyday items. They are behind much of the innovation and improvement we see around us and, as a result, the chemical industry in all its diverse forms offers exciting opportunities and good long-term prospects.
Joe Wong, managing director of Even Chemicals Development Limited, is an example of what can be achieved. After graduation, he went into sales and marketing and acquired extensive experience in different industries over a period of 10 years. "During that time, I was refining my sales skills but always looking for what I felt was the right industry for me," Mr Wong recalls. "I found it when I joined the chemical industry. That was through the referral of a friend 10 years ago, and I could see immediately the room for development and the business opportunities."
As an assistant marketing manager, Mr Wong recognised the importance of providing quality service and meeting the expectations of both clients and suppliers. This paid off when his company restructured and he decided to set up on his own to handle business in both Hong Kong and China. "Establishing my own company was a huge step to take and by no means smooth sailing," he says. As managing director he had to learn about trading regulations, sales channels and effective networking. "We also had to conduct a series of negotiations with clients and suppliers to work out what was needed for each of our products," he adds.
Establishing my own company was a huge step to take and by no means smooth sailing
The communication skills he had learned previously stood Mr Wong in good stead. He now has regular contact with all internal departments and reviews developments on a daily basis. This ensures all projects are running smoothly and that employees are receiving the right support from the company. He also meets frequently with clients and industry contacts in order to devise both short- and long-term strategic plans and keep abreast of all the latest news. "It is a fast expanding field and you have to keep closely in touch with everything that is happening," he says.
For those looking to break into the chemical industry, there are a variety of entry-level positions in areas such as engineering, technical support, and sales and marketing. Besides specific qualifications, certain personal attributes are regarded as essential. These include resilience and a long-term perspective on career development. "Candidates should have a reasonable understanding of the industry and of individual job functions," Mr Wong explains. "With the constant pace of development and the opportunities in China, applicants should also be prepared to embrace change and overcome challenges."
Mr Wong's commitment has been rewarded by the steady expansion of his company as a successful trading concern. "I get a great deal of satisfaction from the trust shown by suppliers and clients and the chance to work with partners whose business is growing," he says.
With China's entry into the WTO, Hong Kong-based companies have been able to establish sales networks and promote overseas brands in the mainland market. It has also been possible to collaborate more closely with manufacturers in China and get involved in handling their exports. As trading companies develop this kind of strategic partnership, they must also recruit new talent to cope with expansion. "It is a common misconception that most positions in our industry are technical; there are many opportunities in sales and marketing," Mr Wong notes.
He advises all candidates to do adequate research on the companies they apply to and to understand their future business direction. "It is important to find out whether a company is actively expanding and if there will be room for career development," he says. "Personally, I believe there will be many rewarding opportunities for those who have an optimistic outlook and work hard to achieve their goals."
According to Mr Wong, there are abundant job opportunities for professionals from Hong Kong in the chemical industry in China. While the positions available vary from sales and marketing to technical functions, it is managerial candidates with solid experience in the industry who are in greatest demand. Younger people who are looking to go north should see it as a long-term investment, since there are significant salary differences for junior positions in Hong Kong and China. "It may take two to three years to adapt to the environment and establish themselves, but they have a definite advantage over local candidates in China, since most foreign companies prefer graduates from Hong Kong with their international perspective," Mr Wong notes.