HI-TECH manufacturers in the electronics sector are used to the intense competition and feverish pace that comes with constantly having to develop, produce and market new items while keeping a tight lid on costs. They also have to contend with shorter product life cycles and frequent changes to key features to attract consumer interest. The electronics industry is Hong Kong's largest export merchandise earner. According to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, it accounted for 48 per cent of total exports last year. This success can be attributed to efficient management practices and the ability to anticipate developments and respond quickly to market trends. In each of these areas, engineers play a vital role. They are much more in the front line, which requires a detailed understanding of end-user expectations and knowledge of the sales and marketing process. 'That is why today's engineering graduates must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills,' said Michelle Li, a marketing executive at South China House of Technology Consultants. 'Business skills are also important, since engineers will have direct contact with customers when working on requests relating to new products and services.' The company has been advising clients, which range from individual professionals to well-known multinationals, for the past 20 years. It has become a specialist in notebook computers and the design and integration of multimedia systems. In view of the importance of China as an industrial base, representative offices and service centres have been set up in major mainland cities, and the company is now looking for experienced engineers. Recruits will receive the necessary training about production processes and brand-name products. 'Knowing the product is an important part of being able to do the job with confidence,' Ms Li said. 'Large visual displays are currently in high demand, but in the next 10 years engineers will have to concentrate on designing for the environment.' Despite competition from mainland enterprises, Hong Kong continues to be a vital centre for sourcing higher-end electronic items. Local companies have also focused on original design manufacturing (ODM), offering their customers value-added services which include the design and development of new products. This strategy has helped them to stay ahead of the competition and move away from a reliance on the lower-cost mass-market items, which are produced mainly by original equipment manufacturing (OEM) companies. Antonio Precise Products Manufactory has managed to cater to the needs of both OEM and ODM clients. In its mainland factories, the company emphasises stringent quality control, backed up by ISO 9001 accreditation, and has also received ISO 14001 certification for a management programme which minimises impact on the environment. 'We have invested a lot in research and development and are aware of the importance of knowledge of worldwide product trends and consumer preferences for staying ahead,' said chief technology officer Jonathan Lee. The R&D workforce is divided into technology research and project development teams, and potential recruits should have an engineering degree and preferably a postgraduate qualification in digital signal processing. The company has become a leading manufacturer of headphones and headsets, and has won a reputation for its design and technology, including the use of Bluetooth and wireless. 'Bluetooth will be replaced by other technology in five years,' Mr Lee said, adding that the focus on miniaturisation would be a driving force in software engineering and integration design. 'Computer engineers and electronics engineers with experience in packaging design will be in high demand. Regarding sales and marketing recruits, it will be useful to have a background in engineering to understand the products we sell.'