Despite the slowdown in the property and construction sector in Hong Kong, there are still many openings for mechanical, electrical and building services engineers, provided they are prepared to relocate within the region.
Macau, for example, is in the midst of an unprecedented boom, with projects to build hotels, casinos and other major tourist and recreational facilities. Meanwhile, the mainland is undertaking massive infrastructure projects and continues to forge ahead with any number of residential, industrial and commercial developments.
Because of a shortage of trained engineers locally, these areas not surprisingly are looking to Hong Kong to supply the kind of professional expertise that is now desperately needed.
Joseph Leung, director of J. Roger Preston Ltd (JRP), a leading mechanical and electrical engineering consultancy in Hong Kong, says his company is ideally placed to take advantage of the situation. JRP currently takes on more than 30 trainee engineers each year and accepts graduates from universities in Hong Kong, the UK, Australia and the USA on a continuous basis. These recruits take the two-year Scheme A training programme overseen by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), which combines academic learning with on-the-job training supervised by in-house HKIE-registered tutors.
However, Mr Leung emphasises that everything an engineer needs to learn "can never be covered in a textbook". This is because it includes technical knowledge, but also aspects of project management, ethics, communication skills and professionalism, which can only be picked up through practical experience.
JRP also makes sure trainees learn about the financial side of projects plus performance objectives, the client's expectations, and the relevant professional codes of practice. Nowadays, extra emphasis is placed on energy-saving technology and how to incorporate more environmentally friendly features at the design stage.
In general, applicants should have a relevant degree. The company does, though, also consider diploma holders from the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) with qualifications in electrical, mechanical and building services engineering. Eight IVE graduates were taken on in each of the last two years. They started as interns and were offered permanent employment terms once their performance had been assessed.
"If they want a long-term career in consulting engineering, we support their continuing education towards a university degree and their professional advancement," Mr Leung says.
On completing the programme, trainees usually attain full engineer status. This is accompanied by a salary increase of around 20 to 30 per cent, greater responsibility, and the need to take decisions independently in the different phases of managing a project.
Achieving chartered engineer status, which is conferred by the HKIE, is a major career milestone. It requires several years' professional experience and opens up many more opportunities.
H K Yung, a director of JRP, says that it generally takes someone six to eight years to become a fully-fledged professional engineer and that achieving chartered status is not a foregone conclusion. "It's not easy and some people may decide not to go the whole way," he says.
When selecting trainee engineers, most employers look for logical thought processes, a good academic background and technical competence. Graduates whose final-year projects have a clear practical application usually have an advantage. Since engineers also act as consultants, presentation and communication skills are essential, though companies make a point of helping new recruits improve in these areas. Language proficiency is expected, since most reports and key technical opinions are written in English, while a high standard of Mandarin is needed to communicate with the authorities in mainland China.
Mr Leung notes that it is also important to have good commercial instincts. "An engineer should be able to deliver exactly what the customer wants after taking account of the financial aspects and profitability of the project," he says.
Nowadays, engineers trained in Hong Kong should expect to travel extensively and to have responsibility for work on construction sites overseas. JRP engineers spend an average of 10 to 15 per cent of their time on projects outside Hong Kong, which explains why the company encourages an international outlook and regards the profession as having no geographical limits.
However, Mr Leung points out that each new project will entail certain technical challenges and knowledge of the rules and regulations which apply in different jurisdictions. "For example, when building a casino in Macau, we need to pay special attention to security and back-up systems, situations that we never encounter in Hong Kong," he says.
Building a career
- Graduates are offered a structured training programme
which leads to chartered engineer status
- Technical competence is needed plus good presentation
and communication skills
- Engineers must be commercially aware to ensure projects
- Working overseas is now viewed as a prerequisite for career