More work means more competition

by Wing Kei

Timmy Sin, general manager, engineering and development department, Techtronic Appliances (Hong Kong) Ltd

For mechanical engineers in Hong Kong, China's booming economy is something of a mixed blessing. It has brought any number of interesting new opportunities for those in the industry, but also led to much more intense competition from counterparts on the mainland whose professional expertise has been developing by leaps and bounds in recent years.

Even so, engineers in Hong Kong should have no immediate concerns about the chance to use their talents on mainland projects. The market is still potentially huge and the right skills and experience will continue to be much in demand.

Timmy Sin, general manager of the engineering and development department of Techtronic Appliances (Hong Kong) Ltd, confirms this view and says that, since cross-border links are already the basis for close cooperation, there is no need for either side to regard the other as a threat.

The company is a manufacturer and retailer of power tools, outdoor equipment and floor care appliances such as vacuum cleaners. Mr Sin, who is an 11-year veteran with the business, says that mechanical engineers in the manufacturing sector must be ready for change and to face the competitive challenges that lie ahead.

"The duties of an engineer with a manufacturing company involve industrial design and developing concepts which lead to new products," he explains. Such a person basically starts a project from an initial concept and sees it through to the successful launch of the final product. It requires an analytical mind, dedication to the task and a fair measure of creativity. These qualities must be combined with technical expertise in the details of mechanics and production cycles, and experience in testing, project follow-ups, and research and development.

Positive spin

Competition with the mainland exists to the extent that engineers there are already equipped with all the basic skills, but are now catching up with many of the refinements. Most manufacturers look on this as an advantage, with a larger pool of well-qualified professionals to draw on, giving the opportunity to create new synergies.

"Hong Kong-based mechanical engineers may have a broader international perspective," says Mr Sin. "This helps them in communicating with and understanding the requirements of overseas contacts. They also tend to be more inventive and resourceful, and these characteristics will help them make the most of any openings that come up in China or elsewhere."

He points out that for any mechanical engineer it is important to keep learning and to make sure their professional knowledge of the industry is updated. Similarly, it is vital to add new accomplishments whenever possible and to recognise that both soft skills, like presenting and communicating well, and hard skills are equally important these days. Any engineer is assumed to have the ability to solve practical problems long before their training is complete. After gaining sufficient experience, junior engineers steadily assume greater responsibilities and, in time, will take on more project management duties.

Nowadays, job descriptions for local mechanical engineers usually specify the need for frequent travel or to be stationed at manufacturing facilities in the mainland. This can be for as many as three or four days a week. Mr Sin visits the Techtronic plant in Dongguan about twice a week and emphasises that he sees this as a standard part of the job. He also mentions that any mechanical engineer possessing broad professional knowledge increases their competitive edge and has an additional advantage in career terms. "For example, not many people know how to design a power tool or what is required from the motor used in vacuum cleaner," he says. "Therefore, I give extra credit to anyone who can demonstrate specialist knowledge in a technical area."

Right attitude

When considering what gives the greatest job satisfaction, Mr Sin notes that it is always a very subjective decision, often depending on how much people are prepared to put into their jobs. "It usually relates to the attitude of the person rather than anything else," he says.

With a total of more than 20 years' experience as an engineer, Mr Sin has run departments, managed large-scale projects, implemented new systems and been involved in research and development. "I am now also overseeing a feasibility study team which is looking into possible new product concepts for future projects," he says.

Unlike other branches of the profession which may go through difficult spells when fewer jobs are available, mechanical engineers in Hong Kong have been able to see a generally steady demand for their skills. However, a trend they need to be aware of is employers hiring more mainland Chinese professionals who are seen as equally competent. "In our own case, we have only one Hong Kong engineer out of a group of about five or six and the rest are mainland recruits," says Mr Sin. "With most manufacturing industries now located in China, Hong Kong-based engineers need to keep their skills sharp to avoid losing out. They are part of a globally significant business and should be flexible enough to use the platform for growth it gives them."

Full production process

  • There are still many opportunities for Hong Kong mechanical engineers in the mainland
  • They must be ready for change and aware of increasing competition from mainland-trained counterparts
  • In the manufacturing sector, their work will cover everything from concept through to final product
  • Both hard and soft skills are an important part of the job
  • A willingness to travel is essential since time must be spent at mainland plants

Taken from Career Times 18 March 2005
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