Gearing up to gain a competitive edge

by Mary Luk

Dr Stephen Lee, Chairman, the Manufacturing and Industrial Division, Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

Young professionals are being urged to widen their horizons and look beyond South China to areas around the Three Gorges for greater experience

Opportunities abound for young Hong Kong engineers to work in the mainland, but not without a price. Professionals wishing to spread their wings across the border must strive to remain competitive in the market.

While the Pearl River Delta has become a popular hub for Hong Kong professional engineers to look around for a career, they should also consider working farther afield in, say, the Three Gorges region where industrial and manufacturing development is growing rapidly. Such centres include Ningbo, Hanzhou and Wuxi, which host major manufacturers of metal, vehicle spare parts, moulds and developers of technology. Suzhou, in particular, has an area equivalent to Hong Kong's usable land mass that is suitable for industrial estate development.

"This is our dream and China is now realising it," says Dr Stephen Lee, Chairman of the Manufacturing and Industrial Division, Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. "We can see how their production lines are set up, materials controlled and automation employed. Hong Kong does not have sufficient land as China to carry out such developments. In the Three Gorges alone, there are more than 100 well-known corporations," he notes.

As Hong Kong's manufacturing industry has gradually moved to the mainland, the trend is for more local engineers to seek a career in the mainland. "They should not just think of staying at home in Hong Kong because China is also our home," Dr Lee points out. "The China market has ample opportunities to help them establish their ideal career. They should better equip themselves - polish their language ability and learn China's corporate culture ?to brace for the challenge. Those with an academic degree should take additional training courses to refine their skills."

The China market will realise his dream of space to work and grow

Definite advantage

Dr Lee adds that there are not many industrial engineering courses in China, thus Hong Kong engineers with the proper training definitely enjoy an advantage when working in the mainland. The competitive edge of Hong Kong engineers compared with those in the mainland, he continues, is that they are proficient in both English and Chinese languages and can communicate with foreign investors in the international market.

There is always a demand for young Hong Kong engineers when a new plant is to be established in China. They are usually sent to work on the mainland by their Hong Kong-based company. These professionals, according to Dr Lee, are expected to have five to seven years' work experience and have reached managerial level. They must possess a sound knowledge of manufacturing operations. As for fresh graduates, their challenge is to put into practice what they have learnt. Salary should not be their prime consideration for working in the mainland, they should widen their vision, he says.

The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers has been actively helping young engineers to explore work opportunities in China. Around August, Dr Lee will meet manufacturers in Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and other nearby cities to arrange exchange tours for young Hong Kong engineers to visit their plants.

Fruitful training

Another initiative of the institution was the organisation of a 12-month Young Manufacturing and Industrial Engineer Career Development Programme in the Pearl River Delta, which ended in April. Raimond Chan, a young engineer who joined the scheme, found the training fruitful. Mr Chan, a graduate of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, studied logistics management, which involves management of industry and engineering. He is now an assistant consultant of TQM Consultant Co, Ltd.

When Mr Chan participated in the programme, he only had six months' experience and found himself in need of more exposure to engineering knowledge and know-how. "In university, I only learnt theory but not practice. I thought taking part in the programme would help widen my knowledge and social network. There is a need to know more veteran engineers and exchange views with them," says Mr Chan.

The programme, supported by the SAR Government and certain academic institutions, consisted of five training workshops, two seminars and visits to 10 plants. All these activities were carried out over the weekend without affecting the participants' daily work.

Mr Chan found plant visits extremely useful. "We were not only able to see different items produced to international standards. We also learnt about planning and manufacturing procedures and the management process of the whole supply chain," he says, adding that he benefited from a speech on public speaking given at one seminar by a seasoned engineer.

Corporate cadetships lure graduates

A survey of more than 400 undergraduates from various tertiary institutions found that most were not keen to work in China after graduation. However, about 70 per cent were willing to be cadets of a corporation on the mainland to experience what life and the work environment there was all about.

Conducted by the Hong Kong Youth and Tertiary Students Association in April, the study showed that only 43 per cent of respondents were willing to work in China; 29 per cent had no intention; and the rest were undecided. Of those ready to work on the mainland, 44 per cent thought it would bring them good career prospects; 29 per cent said it was hard to secure a job in Hong Kong. Those reluctant to work in the mainland say they did not understand its work environment and were also worried about the crime situation. Eight-one per cent thought salary was a deciding factor in their choice. Nearly half the latter group believed they should receive at least a monthly salary of $9,000, commensurate with that of Hong Kong.

Taken from Career Times 25 June 2004
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