Engineers turned on by career at power utility
ONE OF HONG KONG'S most spectacular sights is the view at night from The Peak. The millions of lights illuminating Central, the harbour front and Kowloon produce a breathtaking cityscape, while bearing vivid testimony to the work of Hong Kong's power companies and professional engineers.
When Clive Lee Ka-lun decided to become an engineer, he was not sure what areas he should specialise in. He enrolled to study both electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Hong Kong, with a view to keeping his options open.
'I think I was a bit greedy - I wanted to study all kinds of engineering and develop all-round skills,' said Mr Lee, who is now an assistant engineer with CLP Power.
Before completing his degree, Mr Lee secured a coveted position on the company's graduate trainee programme, knowing that CLP was the primary power supplier for Kowloon and the New Territories and that it offered a diverse career for professionals in the sector.
Each year the company makes contact on campus with about 320 university engineering students. The number is then whittled down to 12 recruits, who are entered into a comprehensive two-year training course to qualify as engineers.
Daniel Chu Hok-man, who is CLP's human resources manager for power systems, said the programme was designed to sustain business growth. 'We have good equipment and facilities but people are our most important asset,' he said.
The first two months of basic training are followed by 16 months of rotation duty between different departments. This gives the trainees a chance to learn more and get a feel for the areas in the company they would most like to work in.
The last six months involve target-oriented, on-the-job training, with a focus on the area of specialisation.
Early in the recruitment process, Mr Lee and other candidates were invited to visit a power plant. 'When I got there, I was amazed by it all,' he said. From that point on, his mind was made up to become a plant operations engineer.
Assistant engineer Ken Chan Tsz-kin had a similar experience of 'love at first sight'.
'Before I was accepted, I kept thinking about the programme and I was impatient for news,' he said. 'It was a bit like waiting to hear from a girlfriend.' After the first couple of encounters with CLP, he knew what career he wanted. On hearing he had been accepted for the graduate trainee programme, he was 'elated'.
Over the past 16 months Mr Chan has worked in the production, generation and distribution and sales departments. He decided the projects department was the one for him. 'I think it will be a good marriage,' he quipped.
At present, Mr Chan is concentrating on substation design and creating networks for overhead cables. He said he found the work immensely satisfying because it helped society and was environmentally friendly. 'The green substations use recycled materials,' he said. 'These are not just technical projects. They can raise social awareness, too.'
Contrary to an outdated stereotype, engineers are not solitary types. They must communicate constantly with a wide range of colleagues and external parties.
For example, Mr Chan must submit his design proposals to department heads for approval, speak to suppliers and contractors to arrange procurement and discuss construction deadlines.
'We handle all kinds of technical, safety, health and environmental issues, and must ensure high quality and cost-effectiveness,' he said.
Besides being able to follow the career path of their choice, Mr Lee and Mr Chan both welcome the opportunity to take part in volunteer activities and give something back to the community.
Mr Chan also sees volunteer work as a way of altering perceptions about engineers. He goes on regular company visits to high schools and chats with students about all the various career possibilities in the field of engineering.
'I recently took part in a five-week programme with students,' he said. 'I did it to make sure they really understood engineering.'