Brave new world for engineers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am


Among engineering professionals, it is said that while scientists discover the world that exists, engineers create the world that never was. Engineers proudly claim responsibility for breakthroughs that have created items that have become integral to modern living. Recent creations include smartphones, digital cameras and equipment that allow doctors to diagnose and treat injuries and disease more effectively than ever before.

According to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the shifting of manufacturing bases by companies into Asia has helped transform the region into the world's major exporter of electronic products.

The change in manufacturing dynamics has generated a strong demand for engineering services, such as in areas of mechanical and electrical, electronics and information technology.

Hong Kong's engineers are also active in exporting their services to the region, particularly the mainland. In the construction sector, major types of professional engineering services that are currently being exported include project management, building services work and engineering consulting.

At the same time, non-construction related engineering services are mainly exported indirectly through trade in manufactured goods, especially advanced equipment and products that embody high engineering services content.

Producing more than 1,500 degree graduates annually, the University of Hong Kong's (HKU)faculty of engineering has trained a large proportion of Hong Kong's senior engineers working as managers in public utilities, government and industry.

As medical engineering continues to boom internationally, there is a fast-growing demand for graduates well-versed in engineering and life sciences. According to HKU's engineering faculty, graduates from its bachelor's of engineering in medical engineering - or biomedical engineering - have opportunities to develop their careers working as scientists and engineers in hospitals and research institutions.

Graduates can also opt to work as research and design, service or sales engineers specialising in medical, healthcare or sports equipment. Furthermore, they can work as electronic, electrical or mechanical engineers; or join numerous local and overseas research programmes in medical engineering or related areas.

Experiential learning is regarded as an integral part of students' learning experience, and internship or industrial training is the most important component of experiential learning, which is compulsory for most of the bachelor of engineering (BEng) programmes.

Providing new opportunities, under the 2012 curriculum - subject to the fulfilment of requirements - high-calibre students are able to pursue double-degrees in BEng, bachelor of business administration or minor options in various disciplines that lead to a double degree in engineering and business.

Martin Cerullo, managing director for Asia-Pacific development with recruitment firm Alexander Mann Solutions, notes that ongoing awareness of environmental protection needs is also creating demand for environmental engineers. 'Companies these days are far more aware of environmental impact. They need environmental engineers to monitor projects and to ensure local communities benefit both economically and socially,' he says.

Highlighting career opportunities, Standard Chartered chief information officer Ashley Veasey says innovation and technology convergence are two key themes that are shaping consumer banking.

'As an example, consumer mobile technology has developed very rapidly. Adoption rates and technology innovation are speeding up. Customers are adapting to these new changes extremely expediently,' says Veasey.

He adds that Standard Chartered's global technology team, which includes computer and IT engineers, is responsible for supporting over 1,000 banking and support applications, as well as desktops for more than 85,000 staff across more than 70 markets.

Professor Sean Tang, associate dean for research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's (CUHK) faculty of engineering, says career prospects for Hong Kong engineers remain promising.

'It is the job of the engineer to determine what people need or want, and work out the best way to provide it,' says Tang.

He says collaboration between CUHK and the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI) and companies located in the Hong Kong Science Park is creating new opportunities for engineering graduates.

'Projects with ASTRI provide hands-on opportunities for our postgraduate and PhD students,' says Tang.

But despite career opportunities, Tang cautions that government financial support is lagging behind the sums the mainland government is investing in research.

Keeping pace with one of the fastest-growing engineering disciplines, last year the CUHK introduced a biomedical engineering programme, which integrates expertise in engineering, medicine and bioscience for the enhancement of healthcare.

'The programme is designed to bridge and integrate the fields of medicine, biomedical sciences and engineering, and to offer students an exciting interdisciplinary research environment,' says Tang.

Those who possess a bachelor's degree or equivalent in a relevant engineering, science, biological or medical discipline from a recognised university or an approved institution are welcome to apply.

At the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering believes it has a major role to play in finding solutions to global medical, chemical, environmental and sustainability needs.

Gordon McKay, acting head of the department, says HKUST programmes in chemical and biomolecular engineering include applied mathematics in chemical engineering, the measurement of air pollutants, advanced transport phenomena and water quality assessment.

'Our courses are continually improved to meet changing needs,' he says. 'Each year, employers compete to recruit our graduates.'