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Education

Prepared for change

by Grace Chan

Winco Yung
associate professor
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Photos: Wallace Chan

Integrated academic programme produces versatile engineering managers

As the engineering landscape transforms, professionals in this sector increasingly need problem-solving skills that span a range of disciplines, as well as refined management and leadership abilities.

"Developing new-generation mobile phones, for example, require technical knowledge from more than one engineering subject area," says Winco Yung, associate professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

"Engineers aspiring to assume senior positions should be prepared for an increasing level of integration between the various fields of academic study, as well as more complex demands from the market. They also need good interpersonal and leadership skills," remarks Dr Yung.

In the light of this need for all-round leadership in the business sector, the PolyU launched a master of science degree in integrated engineering (MScIE) in 2009. A first of its kind in Hong Kong, the programme equips students with knowledge across different engineering disciplines, along with management and leadership skills, and training on innovative concepts, project management and costing models.

Multi-faceted approach

The MScIE programme includes three mandatory subjects, namely accounting for engineers, management and control of engineering operations, and management of innovation and technology; and four electives selected from a broad array of subjects offered by the university's Departments of Electrical Engineering, Electronic and Information Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. These cross-departmental studies help students specialise in their particular field of interest.

"The programme draws on multidisciplinary expertise from the university's Faculty of Engineering, with the full support of more than 200 staff members from different departments," Dr Yung points out. "The key strength of this programme is its extensive resources backup."

Another noteworthy feature is the multi-disciplinary group project that enables students to integrate engineering knowledge within a management context. Students are expected to hone their interpersonal skills and enhance their leadership competence while working on this assignment.

Dr Yung explains that students from a mix of engineering disciplines work together in groups of four on one of 27 different project options, with the ultimate goal of developing and marketing a new product. Every student ends up leading one of the four main tasks: formulating a marketing strategy, product design, design for manufacture, and advertising and drawing up a distribution strategy.

The project simulates a real-life business scenario, where engineers lead teams of fellow workers from different engineering backgrounds. "Apart from combining different streams of expertise, they also have to ensure that their projects are market-driven, innovative, technically workable and cost-effective," notes Dr Yung.

Assessments are based on examinations, presentations, progress reports and the final product. Team leaders are required to prepare additional reports on the tasks they led, detailing the problems they encountered and how they solved them.

Towards leadership

The MScIE programme is structured to allow as much flexibility as possible. Students have between 12 months and two and a half years to complete their study and must obtain the qualification within five years.

The university is to hold an information seminar tomorrow to impart details of the programme to prospective students who should ideally have a bachelor's degree in engineering, science or technology, but equivalent qualifications and work experience are also considered.

Classes are restricted to 20 to 25 students on average and comprise mainly engineering graduates with an average of two to three years' work experience. "The demand for people with this qualification is surging," reveals Dr Yung. "However, we prefer to keep classes small to ensure that all students receive sufficient attention from our teaching staff."

The university has been getting an increasing number of applications from students on the mainland. Ella Shi from Heilongjiang is one mainland student that successfully completed her master's degree and accepted a job as a management and marketing executive for C&G Environmental Technology at Hong Kong Science Park after graduating last year.

"I could immediately apply the multi-disciplinary engineering knowledge that I acquired from the programme in a real business context," Ms Shi says, adding that the experience she gained from working on the group project gave her a strong foundation in management, accounting and marketing. "This provides me with an edge, so that I may be promoted faster than engineers specialising in only one discipline."

The project also helped her to hone her interpersonal communication skills. "Since my team members were all from different backgrounds, we could all learn from each other's professional experiences. In addition to this, we also needed to make sure we communicated our ideas and opinions effectively in order to achieve a common goal."

Filling the demand

  • Integrated masters' programme fosters future engineering managers
  • Interdisciplinary skills demanded by increasingly sophisticated industry
  • Group project simulates real-life business scenario and develops people skills

Taken from Career Times 14 January 2011, A10


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