When dealing with electricity supply networks capable of powering a city like Hong Kong, the possible repercussions of a single mistake or technical failure can be enormous. The best way of anticipating and averting these is to ensure that staff receive high standards of training and attend frequent refresher courses.
"The cycle for introducing new technology is getting shorter all the time, so electrical engineers must keep learning and constantly develop themselves," says Francis Fung, technical services manager for CLP Power HK Limited.
To ensure operational safety, CLP observes stringent requirements in training and authorisation. Engineers who are engaged in operations have to undergo training and assessment before they can be certified as CP (competent persons), AP (authorized persons) and SAP (senior authorized persons). In order to keep abreast of changes in technology and safety standards, they are also required to attend re-certification training every two years.
Besides that, Mr Fung also encourages his team to be innovative and creative. This is done through a quarterly recognition programme for new ideas and an ongoing competition which judges the efforts of different quality control circles (QCC). These initiatives have already led to the company successfully obtaining three patents since 2003.
CLP is particularly keen to emphasise that innovation is very much part of the job for an electrical engineer. Its importance was seen recently when it was found that geckos were causing interference to remote terminal units. One team approached the problem by studying the habits of geckos and designed a solution that relied on stabilising the temperature within the units. This was successfully implemented and recognised with a gold prize for Engineering Circle in the 2005 CLP Power QCC Expo. "It is through innovation that we are able to improve our operations and find solutions to problems," Mr Fung says.
The company promotes a policy of long-term career development and recruits eight to ten graduates each year. They enter a two-year graduate trainee programme, which is accredited by The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. "This recognised training scheme helps us to attract the best graduates and sets them on the right career path," says Mr Fung. Completion of the programme is essential for professional certification and usually leads to promotion as an assistant engineer.
As a role model, Mr Fung himself began his career at CLP as a trainee in 1980. During his training, he received basic electrical and mechanical training before getting his hands dirty with on-the-job training in various departments. He was eventually assigned to develop his career in business generation and was promoted to engineer in the electrical maintenance department after completion of the training scheme. "A head start is of great significance to an aspired engineer," he adds. After acquiring extensive engineering experience and management skills, he was later appointed as generation maintenance manager overseeing all the maintenance activities, including electrical, mechanical, control and instrumentation, at power stations of CLP Power.
To merit consideration for the scheme, candidates must have a relevant degree plus an excellent academic track record. CLP also looks for extensive participation in extracurricular activities, a broad range of interests, strong communication skills, and a good command of both English and Cantonese.
The company also hires assistant engineers externally, provided they have the necessary experience. "It is quite common for electrical engineers to work in different trades and industries, since many of the skills are transferable," Mr Fung explains. CLP builds on this by arranging job rotations which allow staff to gain broader exposure in different departments. Mr Fung have also shifted from generation maintenance manager to technical services manager in an effort to further and widen his career exposure.
One development Mr Fung has especially noted in recent years is the growth of opportunities across the border for Hong Kong-trained electrical engineers. Many of these are the manufacturing sector. "In general, Hong Kong candidates are more in tune with the latest developments, have a more international outlook, and are more adaptable," he explains.
Even though mainland employers are ready to put out the welcome mat, many graduates still prefer to find work in Hong Kong. Whatever the case, Mr Fung advises those interested in entering the field to gain as much experience as possible while still at university.
"Take the opportunity during the summer to work as an intern at an engineering company," he says. CLP takes on approximately 50 interns a year, some of which last a full year and are intended for students taking sandwich courses.
"The main thing for any intern is to keep asking questions," says Mr Fung. "That's the way to learn from the experience and be well prepared to begin a career."
- Electrical engineers are regularly evaluated in order
to maintain high professional standards
- Being innovative is an important attribute and assists
effective problem solving
- Trainees must complete a two-year programme accredited
by The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers
- There is strong demand for Hong Kong-trained electrical
engineers to work in mainland manufacturing enterprises
- Internships provide engineering students with a valuable
chance to gain experience