Since Hong Kong's economy started to pick up in the late '80s and early '90s, mechanical engineering has had an ancillary yet important role to play in fuelling the city's manufacturing and infrastructure developments. The contributions are as far-reaching as anything, from producing toys in a factory to building aircraft in hangars. As the fourth-largest discipline in the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) with a membership of 1,300 qualified mechanical engineers, mechanical engineering involves machinery design, energy conversion, instrumentation and control, in addition to physical and chemical processes. Mechanical engineers need to apply inter-disciplinary knowledge to produce, operate and maintain equipment, machinery and energy conversion systems, material processing and transportation. Their work can also include power generation, wind turbines and hydropower plants so that we can enjoy the conveniences provided by all the electric appliances in our homes. Today mechanical engineering involves a vast amount of technological elements, and mechanical engineers are expected to embrace advances in computer technology through the use of computer-aided design (CAD) and simulation tools. By using CAD, mechanical engineers can evaluate and understand the characteristics of a product or project in a better light before production begins. Computational fluid dynamics computer simulation tools are also widely used to help engineers verify a system's design and allow them to evaluate its performance prior to implementation. Development of alternative energy resources, nano-technology, bio-medical engineering, and micro-machinery have all become part of a mechanical engineer's repertoire. The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Hong Kong Polytechnic University all offer undergraduate programmes in mechanical engineering, while the Institute of Vocational Education runs higher diploma courses. 'We see many opportunities for new graduates. The demand is very high and there are not enough graduates. Graduates can pick and choose jobs,' said Alex Leung Wai-hung, chairman of the HKIE's Mechanical, Marine, Naval Architecture & Chemical (MC) Division. In Hong Kong and Macau, mechanical engineers are in demand for building projects, with positions as project and design managers and engineers to be filled in construction. In Macau, there is a need for qualified people for casino and resort projects. On the mainland there is a huge demand for expertise in infrastructure development. This has given rise to the demand in Macau and on the mainland for Hong Kong engineers. With China being the world's factory, engineers, particularly in the manufacturing industry, are highly sought after. The rapid infrastructure development in major mainland cities in recent years has resulted in a shortfall of mechanical engineers. According to Mr Leung, there are more than 10 mainland cities planning to build or expand metro systems. 'Typically, mechanical engineers can work in infrastructure-related areas such as railways, airport and port facilities, vehicular tunnels, power plants and other utilities,' said Mr Leung, assistant vice-president of Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia), an engineering consultant that provides infrastructure services. 'There are positions at data centres because of the need for engineering support and in commercial and government projects.' The mushrooming of amusement parks and entertainment facilities in Hong Kong and on the mainland has also created abundant opportunities for engineers entrusted with ensuring the safe daily operation of all rides and equipment. 'Mechanical engineers can also contribute in other sectors such as public transportation and public utilities. Airport infrastructure is another field where mechanical engineering expertise is required, and the baggage handling system is one example,' said Fanny Ting Pong-yau, committee member of the MC division and an assistant electrical and mechanical engineer with the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. The rapid developments of public utilities and the aviation industry on the mainland also require maintenance and aircraft engineers. 'From a contractor's point of view the past year has been difficult in terms of hiring the right people,' said Barry Lee Chi-hong, deputy chairman of the MC Division and manager for environmental engineering operation at ATAL Engineering. 'It is difficult to convince potential hires because of good market demand, and there are more career opportunities open to graduates.' Mr Lee said work also existed in energy management, renewable energy application, sewage treatment, solid waste management, air pollution control, and noise control and mitigation. According to Mr Leung, the design and construction of the MTR West Island Line, the South Island Line, and other projects such as the Sha Tin to Central Link and Express Rail Link are in the pipeline to attract aspiring engineers. 'In addition, the development of the Tamar government headquarters, West Kowloon cultural district and southeast Kowloon development projects will also provide many opportunities for our local mechanical engineers.' Mr Leung said. Despite the current tug of war between the private and public sectors for mechanical engineers, most engineering companies look for hires with strong analytical skills, a thorough knowledge of this discipline and people skills. 'Soft skills such as communication and presentation are also important,' Ms Ting said. 'Common sense is important.' This article is part of a series on engineering trends and development, produced in association with The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. It is published on the last Saturday of every month.