As professionals in the geotechnical engineering field face an increasingly competitive market, a Hong Kong-based civil and structural engineering company is helping staff upgrade skills with an emphasis on broader experience and hi-tech adaptability. 'We try to convince our staff to be more versatile,' said Greg Wong Chak-yan, principal at Greg Wong and Associates. 'We want them to be more flexible and do more than just one type of project, go to more places out of Hong Kong, for example, and be extra efficient so that the same job that takes one month to do, try to do it in three weeks and [with the] same quality and degree of care. This is to help to win competition within Hong Kong.' And, as companies get leaner, Mr Wong said that opportunities lay with smaller renovation projects in the domestic market. This has renewed the need for cost-effectiveness, environmental awareness and the need for geotechnical engineers to work in different environments. 'Locally, we are looking for new markets such as small repair projects, upgrading and smaller projects like renovating market places, and building libraries,' Mr Wong said. 'We try to upgrade our engineers. Nowadays, engineers have to design with materials [that are economic] because developers are facing tight budgets and low profit margins. They need to design in [a] green way, learn to use recycled materials, be efficient in energy consumption and bio-engineering, and to understand heritage, conservation and human factors in ways that are safe to construction workers, with less noise and dust.' The company has a track record of preparing staff for workplace challenges, with the implementation of a training programme that nurtures engineering professionals. Since the early 1980s, it has taken on an average of six new trainees a year, with geotechnical engineers making up 40 per cent of the complement. In a three-year training programme, the first year emphasises technical skills and calculations, the second year design and there's practical contract training in the final year. The practical training also covers an understanding of building laws, design codes, construction and site safety, and supervision. The course goes into construction laws on the mainland and in Hong Kong, and looks at corruption issues and ethics. The in-house training scheme has made the company a springboard for career development, enabling graduated trainees to choose career paths in geotechnical, civil or structural engineering. Those who continue to pursue geotechnical engineering will find that they can apply skills in a globally diversified setting as companies move out of Hong Kong for large-scale infrastructure deals. According to Mr Wong, the company has stepped up marketing in Guangdong in the hope of benefiting from policies, such as the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, as it waits for major infrastructure projects in Hong Kong to start. But, with geotechnical engineers needing to gain experience in different soil types, work experience in varied locations is essential, making opportunities for career development ideal in companies that are globally expanding. 'Engineers have many opportunities to deal with faulting, geological transformations, water, soil and the flow of rocks. But the chances of seeing and doing these things are greater overseas than [in] Hong Kong,' he said. 'There are a few opportunities to do them in Hong Kong, no doubt, but most of the geotechnical engineers will not have that chance because their companies will make them work on routine services such as inspecting old retaining walls or digging basements. Geotechnical engineers will need to be able to work on natural slopes, dig tunnels for utilities companies, work on piling, and mine excavation. So they have a better chance of using their principles and projecting their experience to practise soil and rock mechanics in an environment outside Hong Kong.'