Property / Construction

Structured career for building engineers

by Charles Mak

Jonathan Wong, director (E & M), Chun Wo E & M Engineering Ltd

A career as a building services engineer begins with a professional training progamme that is second to none

The property and construction industry usually provides a very fair reflection of the general state of the overall Hong Kong economy. Therefore, with most local economists once again revising their forecasts upwards, it should be no surprise to find out that new employment opportunities are now appearing for building services engineers.

Jonathan Wong, director (E & M) of Chun Wo E & M Engineering Ltd, was among the first to notice the trend. "In step with the ongoing economic recovery, we have seen the prospects in building maintenance, urban planning, residential building and infrastructure projects all improving, and predict there will be plenty of openings for the younger generation of building services engineers," he affirms.

Nowadays, most Chun Wo staff hold appropriate engineering degrees and Mr Wong believes there should be a sufficient supply of qualified graduates to meet the industry's growing demand for professional recruits. "We are very flexible when assessing young graduates," he says. "A degree holder in any of the major engineering disciplines will be readily considered since we put as much emphasis on selecting people with the right personality and career aspirations as on their specific degree."

To the layperson, the job of a building services engineer might not be easily distinguished from that of a structural or civil engineer, both of which involve aspects of planning, design and supervising construction. Specifically, the job is to ensure the cost-effective and environmentally sound design and maintenance of energy-using elements in any type of building. This can mean making the best use of natural resources and supervising all equipment and materials installed for lighting, air-conditioning, electrical distribution, water supplies or safety systems.

"Engineers in these three different categories may receive similar training but, from a functional perspective, they have clearly defined roles within the profession," explains Mr Wong.

Graduates are given the chance to develop as future leaders

Professional training

At Chun Wo, as with other large engineering companies, there is a four-year training programme designed to help young graduates meet the Scheme A training requirements of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) and pass their professional examinations. Trainee engineers also get on-the-job experience of all aspects of the profession with the ultimate objective of giving them the skills to become future industry leaders.

Each year, Chun Wo receives more than 300 applications from which around 50 candidates are short-listed for first interviews. The selection process allows for 10 of them to go forward to the next round in which they are asked to give a 10-minute presentation. "Graduates with outstanding academic records are, of course, eligible to apply," says Mr Wong, "but we only select the cream of the crop as we are looking for quality rather than quantity."

Four years' training might seem more than enough. However, it is seen as essential for giving engineers the range of skills they will need to have long and productive careers.

"The HKIE's Scheme A training leads to chartered engineer status which is a professional qualification as well as an identity," explains Mr Wong. "Graduates who do not join a formal training programme still need the HKIE qualification to work independently as an engineer. With the proper training, however, they can be monitored to ensure they reach a certain level within a certain period of time."

Besides having a clear career structure, trainee engineers can expect to earn between HK$10,500 and HK$13,000 a month, if not even more, while following the programme. Mr Wong says, "We take care of both financial and career needs and offer graduate trainees the chance to develop as future leaders. We have long-term goals in mind and training is just part of the process."

Northward bound

In order to help Hong Kong-trained engineers find work on the mainland, without the need to take any additional qualifications, a reciprocal recognition agreement was recently signed by the HKIE and their counterparts in Beijing. This initially covers Class I registered structural engineers, but the intention is to extend the agreement progressively to assist engineers in other disciplines. It is estimated that many engineers from Hong Kong already have experience of working on mainland projects, but a reciprocal agreement will remove restrictions on the kind of work they can do.

"Regardless of cultural differences and local construction regulations, we can say that China and Hong Kong should be able to share the same professional knowledge," says Mr Wong. "It will be to everyone's advantage if Hong Kong companies and professionals can play a full part in the large-scale projects across the border. We now have a solid foundation for further cooperation and are creating new opportunities for Hong Kong's engineers."

To get a foothold in the China market, the qualification of project management professional (PMP) is advantageous. As Mr Wong points out, some Hong Kong engineers already have this and are ready to go north. "As China continues to open up, there will be many projects and a strong demand for more professionals," he adds. Therefore, junior engineers, or graduates preparing to enter the profession, should start thinking about how to equip themselves for work on the mainland at some future point.

"It takes about 10 to 12 years for trainees to reach management positions," says Mr Wong. "As building services engineers acquire expertise, they should also be looking for ways to advance the profession systematically on both sides of the border."

Take a long-term view

  • Comprehensive four-year training programme leading to professional qualification
  • Emphasis on preparing graduates as future company leaders
  • Competitive selection criteria help to identify the very best candidates
  • Mainland China seen as a land of future opportunity

Taken from Career Times 17 September 2004
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