To counter a talent shortage in the engineering sector, companies in Hong Kong have become increasingly innovative in recruiting and retaining professionals.
Hongkong Electric, which provides power to Hong Kong and Lamma Islands, has been a pioneer in developing programmes to attract young people into the engineering profession.
Eva Chow, employee services manager for personnel and administration at the Hongkong Electric Centre, says the company has noted a decline in young people's interest in engineering, with many school graduates opting for a degree in law, information technology or finance.
To overcome the problem, the company launched a vocation trainee programme last year to promote engineering to Form Five and Six students.
"The objective is to [introduce and] enhance their knowledge of engineering and let them know the career prospects [of an engineer]. We hope to stimulate their interest so that they will choose to enrol in engineering programmes in universities," Chow says.
Participants are assigned to different Hongkong Electric divisions during the summer holidays, where they gain exposure to various facets of its operations in areas such as power grids and special projects.
Chow says the results have been encouraging. "Some participants have taken up engineering at university," she says, adding that the company has put in place a two-year graduate trainee programme where "graduate engineers" work for different departments and are assigned to a mentor.
They will become assistant engineers after completing the programme.
Another challenge that Hongkong Electric faces is keen competition for engineers, which has intensified following the government's rollout of mega-infrastructure projects.
But thanks to programmes that the company has developed to promote career advancement, which Chow says has cultivated a strong sense of belonging among staff, the departure of some engineers has only had a minimal impact on the company.
"Our [staff] turnover rate over the past few years has been [steadily hovering] at 3 to 4 per cent, compared with a 10 to 15 per cent turnover rate in the local job market," she says.
Edwina Lai, an electrical engineer with Hongkong Electric's projects division, appreciates the opportunities offered by the company. She was given the chance to receive management training in a power plant consulting project, near Bangkok, soon after she completed the graduate trainee programme.
"Through working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, I have broadened my horizons," Lai says. "I have learned important skills in communication, [improved my] ability to solve problems, and acquired technical knowledge."
Lai, who joined Hongkong Electric in 2004 after graduating from the electrical engineering programme at the University of Hong Kong, has since enrolled in courses provided by the company, covering law, insurance, financial analysis, and project management.
"I'm now able to communicate more effectively with specialised divisions," says Lai, who has been studying for a chartered engineer qualification. "We are also encouraged to participate in professional seminars and conferences regularly to keep ourselves abreast of the latest technological developments."
Chow says that some engineers who have worked abroad and in Macau have been lured back to Hong Kong as the demand for the profession increases.
"We have recruited some returning engineers in civil, and electrical and mechanical engineering over the past two years," she says.
The supply of experienced engineers specialising in the power sector and related disciplines has, meanwhile, remained stable, Chow says. She adds that Hongkong Electric is constantly looking out for engineers to fill vacancies due to regular turnover, while job openings are also created as the company pursues a policy of "promotion from within".
"The company's recruitment strategies are formulated in [line] with its business development and succession planning," she says.
At present, it is looking for a fuel contract engineer for the company's commercial division, and a power transmission and distribution engineer.
At Hongkong Electric, recruits start from graduate engineer, to assistant engineer, and engineer three, two and one
The next step is senior engineer, then section head, department head, and head of division
It also recruits from technician apprentice and technician trainee programmes offered by local vocational training institutes