Playing to win

by Sophie Leung

C W Yuen (left), senior vice president, manufacturing and product development
Carmen Sze, manager, human resources and administration
Spin Master Toys Far East Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Engineering excellence instrumental in turning innovative ideas into high-tech toys

Toy designers may be the artistic force behind creative ideas; engineers play an equally important role in the top manufacturing and quality assurance process.

"Engineers with a good command of English and international exposure are highly sought after in the industry," says C W Yuen, senior vice president of manufacturing and product development, Spin Master Toys Far East Limited.

The multinational company, with headquarters in Toronto and marketing and sales offices in the US, UK and France, has a team of more than 50 engineers at its manufacturing and product development offices in Hong Kong and mainland China. The company produces hundreds of different products like the world's first remote control toy planes, and concentrates on product development via employing the latest technology. Demand for experienced engineers is therefore very high.

"Our engineers work as project managers, taking the lead from the concept drawing stage through to development and ultimately production," Mr Yuen says. Not only do these engineers address safety standards and production schedule challenges, but also technical difficulties. "They are also expert in calculating risks involved in exploring new technology," he adds.

Bright prospects

As engineers play such an indispensable role in the company's business, they have many opportunities for professional advancement.

"Simpler and smaller-scale projects are assigned to new recruits with less experience," explains Carmen Sze, Spin Master's human resources and administration manager. "In time, engineers who consistently perform well can be promoted to project managers whose role also includes coaching junior colleagues. As they progress and become engineering managers, they will face increased responsibilities. These naturally include managing an entire product line."

While there are plenty of chances to move up the career ladder, engineers also have ample lateral development opportunities, Ms Sze points out. "Engineers oversee every step of the process, they can easily move to other positions based on their aspirations and talents."

The company assigns comparatively simple jobs to engineers based in Dongguan, mainland China, but relies on Hong Kong engineers for more complicated projects. In spite of fierce competition from mainland China, Mr Yuen believes that Hong Kong candidates still have a competitive edge. "A competent level of English and effective communication skills are essential to work for a multinational company," he notes. "Successful product development is a race against the clock, so requires people with hands-on experience and exposure to a sophisticated market."

Toy products linked to hot trends have tight production schedules, Mr Yuen adds. "For example, one of our current projects requires us to launch eight new toy characters every other month, and in the process meet stringent safety standards and conduct numerous tests."

Rewarding profession

Spin Master engineers are expected to work with vendors and company headquarters on product designs, design to cost, development, engineering and components sourcing. They also provide technical support to the quality assurance, procurement and merchandising departments.

"In the toy manufacturing industry, enthusiasm is key. We are looking for dedicated individuals who love to take on new challenges," Mr Yuen points out.

"Engineers act as a bridge between marketing, designers and manufacturers, because they make requests for adjustments and provide feedback to the sales and design teams in North America," he adds, stressing that the company requires recruits to possess solid English communication skills and knowledge of international toy industry standards.

Apart from a tertiary education related to mechanical or electrical engineering, applicants are required to have at least two years of relevant experience in toy product development. Engineers should expect to travel frequently to mainland China, as they are responsible for overseeing manufacturing processes and monitoring production schedules at factories. "It is essential that candidates are eager to learn, as they will handle different products and the latest technology," Ms Sze stresses.

Mr Yuen concedes that the job often requires long hours and that product quality concerns can be a challenge, but enthusiasm pays fruitful dividends.

"Three years ago, our team successfully produced the world's first remote control toy helicopters. Nothing can compare with the immense job satisfaction brought by such an achievement," he concludes.


Taken from Career Times 15 August 2008, p. B3
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