There's much more to Hong Kong's ongoing success as a dynamic business centre than the highly efficient logistics and shipping industry.
For example, the work of UL International Ltd provides a fascinating insight into aspects of the export trade known to few outsiders.
UL International Ltd is a wholly-owned affiliate of Underwriters Laboratories which is noted for its work in product safety testing and certification. It has a staff of 230 professionals in Hong Kong and a local laboratory capable of testing 100 product categories such as audio/video products, automotive-related products, household appliances, wires, cables and other power supplies.
UL set up its Hong Kong office in 1988 to help manufacturers and exporters in Hong Kong and mainland China obtain access and acceptance to overseas markets. Its scope of services includes global safety testing and certification, international management system registration, knowledge solutions, restricted substances testing and surveillance as well as performance testing and commercial inspection.
Sharing UL's mission of creating a safer world is Carson Wang, the company's operations manager of conformity assessment services. Mr Wang joined UL in 1994 after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. Since the awareness of product safety among the general public in Hong Kong was low at that time, he knew little about UL, but as an engineering trainee quickly came to appreciate the company's capability and long history in this important field.
Mr Wang's conformity assessment section is one of UL's largest divisions. His main responsibilities include the team's capacity planning, daily operations and supervision of safety testing and certification projects. His team's engineers are the frontline experts who conduct product testing and evaluation according to the requirements of national or international safety standards. After completing tests on a particular product or component, they issue a comprehensive test report and certificate.
As product safety evaluation has long been a necessity for electrical and electronics products to be sold in such countries as the US, Canada, Denmark, Germany and EU member countries, many exporters and manufacturers take the initiative to seek safety certification from organisations like UL before authorising the mass production of a new product. This is a sensible precaution for manufacturers, while the growing demand for product safety certification services today provides many job opportunities and good prospects for practitioners in the field of product safety testing and certification.
In general, the team spends four weeks on rigorous investigation and testing of a product. When a product is found to be failing the tests, engineers will inform the client without delay so as to save the customer's time in changing the design so that they can still meet their production timeline. The engineers provide the customers with as much detail as possible so they can re-work the design, making the product safety compliant.
Besides the hard skills involved in their work, the safety testing and certification engineers must also possess soft skills in communications, inter-personal relationships and project management — all points that anybody wishing to join this field should take into account.
For example, in explaining why the product is doomed to pass its safety tests, the engineer must be patient but firm and show good engineering judgment in outlining the product's faults. This introduces a very different aspect to the work of engineers, who must move away from their benches in the laboratory to smoothly handle a client wanting to urgently patch up a product in the shortest possible time.
Mr Wang finds his job enthralling since it keeps him updated on the latest product information, market trends in industries and diversified product portfolios. The experience of working with overseas staff also enables him to exchange expertise and practical experiences with counterparts from other regions. He also enjoys taking part in public education programmes to promote the concept of safety testing.
"It is most essential for up-and-coming engineers and product designers know that when developing a new product, while innovation is important, safety is paramount," he adds.
In contrast to his initial years with UL, there is today much greater awareness of the need for product safety among both the public and industry generally, though it has been a gradual process. He believes that as products become increasingly innovative and diversified, more clients will turn to companies like his for safety testing and certification, thereby providing job opportunities for graduates interested in joining the industry.
If found suitable, comparatively recent graduates with some work experience can begin as engineering trainees, getting their first step on the promotion ladder to engineer, associate project engineer, project engineer and senior project engineer — provided they obtain relevant work experience and demonstrate strong work competence. Later as they progress, they might have a chance to choose between aiming to become a section manager or a staff engineer specialising in the technical sphere.
"Candidates with a degree or diploma in mechanical, chemical or electrical engineering would be ideal recruits, specially if they also have good analytical skills, judgment and communication skills," Mr Wang says.
Summing up requirements for a person wishing to become a safety engineer, Mr Wang stresses that qualities the interviewer would be looking for would include willingness to learn and to take up challenges that would help expand the candidate's scope of knowledge and skill sets.