Moving with the times
It has become commonplace for companies to design a product in one country then manufacture it in another - using raw materials sourced from several other nations - before marketing it across the world.
And with the rise of globalisation, the importance of supply chain management and logistics has come to the fore.
'Industrial engineering, which is the basis of logistics and supply chain management, has been around for many years,' says Dr Henry YK Lau, associate professor and head of the department of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). 'But people working in this field have become more and more aware of the importance of logistics, and realised that advances in knowledge and technology can indeed help make their operations more effective and efficient.'
Hong Kong's world-class port facilities, its financial services industry and its excellent communications and transportation infrastructure have all helped logistics - the process of getting the right things in the right place at the right time and in the most efficient way - become a key element of the local economy.
'The government has repeatedly highlighted the importance of Hong Kong not only in continuing to build on its success as one of the world's major trans-shipment hubs, but also in developing into one of the most important logistics hubs in the Asia Pacific region,' adds Dr Wong Hon-shu, assistant professor and programme director of the master of science (MSc) in international shipping and transport logistics programme at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).
The field of logistics is constantly expanding and developing, and currently encompasses everything from law to advanced IT systems.
With Hong Kong competing in a global market for talent, HKU and PolyU, among other local universities, are attempting to address the manpower shortage with their MSc programmes.
HKU's MSc (engineering) in industrial engineering and logistics management has been regularly updated to keep pace with Hong Kong's economic transformation. 'Many new components and course modules in areas such as RFID technology, law for logistics, and IT, have been added,' says Lau.
Most of the programme's students are graduates in engineering, the sciences or other related disciplines, and they are usually employed in manufacturing, logistics, transportation and the public sector. Many hold senior management positions.
'Ours is not just a theoretical course on logistic and supply chain management issues, it is more a conversion course,' explains Lau. 'A good proportion of our students have been trained in other disciplines - such as mechanical or electrical engineering - but now want to engage with the logistics business. Or they may have been working in that area and want to consolidate their knowledge. Our courses are also accredited by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation.'
To graduate, students must complete either 12 or eight modules of study and a project. This can be done in one year on a full-time basis, or in two to three years part-time.
The fee is HK$6,900 per module, or HK$27,600 for the project, which is equivalent to four modules.
As its title suggests, the MSc in international shipping and transport logistics offered by PolyU focuses on a specific industry.
'About 10 years ago, we invited shipowners and the professionals in the logistics industry to come together with academics from PolyU, and we designed this programme to meet the manpower needs of Hong Kong in those disciplines,' explains Wong.
'We are quite unique in this aspect,' he adds. 'Although there might be similar courses - focusing on industrial logistics or logistics engineering - offered by other institutions in Hong Kong, we are basically business-oriented and focusing on international shipping, in relation to marine insurance, shipping and admiralty law, and transport logistics.'
Applicants normally require either an honours bachelor's degree in international shipping or logistics, or maritime studies - or an equivalent degree in another discipline, along with a certain number of years' relevant work experience. They must also be full members of Hong Kong's Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, or of an equivalent body in Britain.
The MSc programme can be pursued full-time or part-time. To graduate, students have to complete 33 credits, made up of five compulsory and six elective subjects. For local students, the tuition fee is HK$125,400.
However, generous financial help is available to talented and qualified students. 'A few years ago, the Hong Kong Maritime Industry Council set up a scholarship for fresh graduates from shipping- or logistics-related first degrees,' says Wong. 'After a stringent selection process consisting of interviews with PolyU academics, shipowners and government officials, successful applicants are awarded a scholarship sufficient to cover their tuition fees and provide some subsidies for their living costs.'
Recipients need to complete 39 regular credits and six training credits, studying on a full-time basis. On completion, they are required to work in the Hong Kong shipping industry for one year.
For those who find the demands of the MSc too onerous, a postgraduate diploma programme in international shipping and transport logistics is also available at PolyU. To gain this qualification, students have to complete 18 credits. The fee for local students is HK$68,400.
When it comes to the future of the logistics industry, both Lau and Wong foresee challenges to overcome and changes that will help ensure a successful transition.
Wong highlights the lack of standardisation in some forms of transportation units, and threats to security, particularly involving terrorism, as problems that need to be tackled. Given that the sums of money involved in international business are so large, he would also like the workings of e-business to be improved.
When it comes to predictions, he sees the focus on green issues, such as carbon emissions and zero-waste, becoming ever sharper, and the emergence of new forms of energy for transportation.
Lau picks out two areas in which technology is increasingly lending a helping hand to those working in the logistics field. 'The use of tracking and tracing technologies via the internet can make the logistics process more doable,' he says. 'And the use of computer-based simulation and modelling can allow us to plan ahead and schedule much more effectively.'