Career Path

Get the wires crossed

by Charles Mak

Chan Wing-on
head of training school, human resources, power systems
CLP Power Hong Kong Limited
Photos: Dickie Tam

Certain people may dread just to think of climbing a corporate hierarchy. Chan Wing-on, head of training school, human resources, power systems, CLP Power Hong Kong Limited, believes this particular sentiment is comprehensible.

"But, stress of this nature does motivate people to move up," Mr Chan says. "Young people looking for career advancement must seek to join a company that is capable of and committed to offering its people the flexibility and diversity in terms of both personal and professional advancement."

Mr Chan's career at CLP spans nearly two decades but he can still see a long way ahead. "Take a close look at CLP's business infrastructure and you'll see the supply of vertical and lateral opportunities is not limited to the kind of academic qualifications and training you've attained," he says.

Laying the groundwork

An electrical engineer by training, Mr Chan signed on with CLP's graduate trainee (GT) programme in 1990. "An engineering qualification opens a window of opportunities but I followed my intuition. In fact, CLP was my first and only career choice at the time," he notes.

The two-year GT training was systematic and engaging, following a rotation schedule that gave Mr Chan a comprehensive view of the company's operations as well as a strong foundation. "Training was tough. We worked day and night, indoor and outdoor, just to get our hands dirty," he recalls. "However, the experience was second to none." It was also during those two years that Mr Chan built a network across different CLP departments. "Most of my fellow trainees are still working here today," he adds.

Mr Chan's career route may have been typical — rising from assistant engineer to engineer two, engineer one and his current position as head of the training unit, but the roles he chose to play were not predefined by the ranks. "Into my sixth year with CLP, I made a shift across to the frontline as an account manager. The job required a great deal of skills in customer service and commercial acumen, while putting my knowledge in engineering into practical use," he explains. "I had a chance to familiarise myself with the entire power supply process."

Aside from service skills, technical aspects remained key in that particular position, one that Mr Chan describes as a perfect platform for learning the best of both worlds. He says, "Customer service is not like installing or fixing a piece of power equipment. The challenge lies in its suppleness — it's an art form. To do it well, you need the capacity to think on your feet and base your judgement on your expertise and experience."

Diversity stands him in good stead. He was then given the opportunity to become part of a change team to facilitate organisational change for a CLP department before he assumed the position of an engineer responsible for training. "I never thought I would be managing the same training programme that gave me a head start in the first place," he says.

Charged up

The bulk of Mr Chan's current responsibilities comprises the formulation, implementation and modification of an array of technical, operation and safety training such as those for cable jointers. "Cable jointing is a key process in power supply," he stresses. "The skills involved are unique to the power system industry. We now employ more than 100 cable jointing professionals and part of my job is to ensure in-house training sufficiently meets the advancement of cable jointing technologies as well as the career development needs of our specialists."

In Mr Chan's opinions, young people must take ownership of their career development. "A two-year post-training work experience is required of our engineering graduates for the HKIE membership," he says. "Engineers must also satisfy the annual CPD requirements set forth by the HKIE."

Although his current role does not require him to conduct day-to-day technical training, he believes in the value of life-long learning and so takes an active approach to sourcing and dissimulating industry-related information. He is also an active participant in local seminars as well as overseas conferences such as the ASTD international conference and exposition in the US. Two years ago, Mr Chan was invited back to the conference and shared with an audience one of his award winning training initiatives.

Occasional onsite observations may stretch his daily nine-to-six schedule that is usually jam-packed with meetings with line managers, engineers as well as external parties so as to come up with the most practical and effective training programmes. "Training, whatever the objectives, has to be demand driven and results oriented," he emphasises.

He encourages people stepping up to higher positions to broaden their sphere of knowledge. "Everybody starts a career in a specific role or function but as you progress you'll need to look at and understand the bigger picture," he says. "Middle managers face pressure and challenge from all directions, so learning the skills to manage up, down and peers is essential."

Contrary to his technical background, Mr Chan is a keen painter, with a knack for appreciating the irrational and abstract elements in art. "This contrast against the rhymes and reasons of day-to-day life gives me an alternative perspective," he says.


Taken from Career Times 13 November 2009, p. B8
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