Career Path

Non-exact science without perfect solutions

Wattie Lo

Ir. Dr. Joseph Chow
Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

Problem solving is common to all engineering work. Like the scientist, the engineer is interested in applying mathematics and common sense to his everyday problem-solving activity. He must give the optimum solution to every problem he faces - that is to say, he must make the best possible decision in the face of situations constrained by scarcity.

If engineering has any meaning, it would be, as eloquently postulated by Ir. Dr. Joseph Chow*, who is currently the President of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), a "non-exact science without perfect solutions."

"Engineering is not an exact science because there can be no single best solution to an [engineering] problem," says Ir. Dr. Chow, who is also Chairman of JMK Consulting Engineers, a consultancy firm, which he founded in 1992. The engineering solution must always satisfy conflicting requirements - for example, efficiency costs money; safety adds to complexity. Thus, "finding the optimal balance among different requirements is a very important task to all engineers," he says.

"The demand for engineers in Hong Kong still remains, as new infrastructure projects are continuously under way."

The mindset needs change

Associated with engineering is a broad range of professional specialities, notably electrical, mechanical, civil and computer engineering, to name but a few. Yet, according to Ir. Dr. Chow, none of these specialities are completely isolated from one another. A civil engineer, he says, for instance, is generally involved in designing such things as buildings, bridges, roads, and dams. However, that engineer is often called upon to work with other engineers who specialise in different fields including electricity applications, water-supply systems, and sanitation. As a result, Ir. Dr. Chow argues, "While engineers continue to deepen their understanding of the professional field in which they specialise, they will also need a very good sense of what their colleagues are dealing with in other fields."

"This mindset will be of paramount importance to engineers of tomorrow," he adds, as technology changes at lightning speed, and hence engineers must keep up their proficiency by updating their training and education. "Business management know-how is also considered very important as engineers advance in their profession."

Hong Kong engineers

In Hong Kong, the HKIE, the only recognised body by the SAR Government to set standards for the engineering profession, brings together member engineers across various disciplines, of whom some 40 per cent currently specialise in civil engineering.

Asked about job opportunities in the present economic climate, Ir. Dr. Chow replies: "Compared to the early 1990s, there are clearly fewer job opportunities at present. This is because a lot of big infrastructure projects, for example the Chek Lap Kok Airport and the Tsing Ma Bridge have already come to an end. But people shouldn't be misled by simply believing that jobs in the engineering field have completely vanished! The demand for engineers in Hong Kong still remains, as new infrastructure projects are continuously under way."

Hong Kong engineers, Ir. Dr. Chow argues, are comparable with their overseas counterparts in many respects. Ironically, the standards of English of many young Hong Kong engineers have been largely disappointing, he adds, emphasising that this is a crucial area where they need to make every effort to improve, if they are to maintain their international competitiveness.

* "Ir." is a title corporate members of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers are entitled to use.

China Opportunities

There are growing opportunities for those who want to work in China via Hong Kong companies with investment or joint venture in major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. With the rapidly growing amount of foreign direct investment flooding into China, the years ahead will also see a gradual increase in the number of Hong Kong engineers seeking out opportunities around the country on an individual basis.

Jobs currently offered in China often do not come with very attractive reward packages, for standards of living in China remain significantly different from Hong Kong's. But young engineers, in particular, should be prepared to cope with this pay difference, while appreciating the merits of working in a different culture, advises Ir. Dr. Chow. Hong Kong engineers will also benefit tremendously from being able to work on certain projects that may not be available in Hong Kong, for example engineering projects in correlation with the Beijing Olympics.

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 21 June 2002, p. 32
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