WHILE THE PERCEPTION of the garment industry in Hong Kong is not as high as that of the finance, management consultancy or information technology sectors, the opportunities for career development can be just as exciting, offering the chance for advancement, travel and assignment overseas. For starters, the entry barriers are lower. 'People who want to begin a career in the garment industry require a high school education and an interest in the business,' said Emily Tein, a former employee of Polo Ralph Lauren. Another advantage is that the industry is more of an equal opportunity employer than most sectors, with more positions in merchandising occupied by women than men. And women are increasingly working their way into management. There are three potential entry points for the garment industry: working for a manufacturer and learning the business from that perspective; working for a trading house or agent as a merchandiser; or working for a retailer with a buyer organisation. An aspiring garment industry professional can begin as an associate merchandiser. Subsequently, the person can work his or her way up to a senior merchandiser's position. Then he or she can become a merchandise manager - or a sales manager if employed by a manufacturer - after gaining experience working with a few key product lines such as knitted and woven garments, and with a few different buyers. A university degree would be a useful qualification for managerial positions. Several years later, after acquiring the ability to translate corporate strategic direction into successful management of operations, the professional may be promoted to a director-level position or become a vice-president. 'To advance, the key is communication skills, including language skills in Mandarin for manufacturers, and as one moves up, English and interpersonal skills,' according to Fred Ng of USI Holdings. Doug Rogers, vice-president, M&V International Manufacturing (HK), said: 'Aspiring managers who are more comfortable living and working in China can improve their career prospects.' Industry experts point out that, because customers and buyers are often located in different time zones, the dedication to work late hours and the perseverance to tie together loose ends are also necessary for success.