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Employers race to identify best young talent
John Cremer
update on Saturday, February 26, 2011
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Demand for engineers in Hong Kong has rarely been higher, with two key factors responsible for the intense competition between employers to attract new recruits.

One is the strength of the general economic rebound, coupled with the government's 10 mega-infrastructure projects, which is creating a need for skills in every engineering discipline. The other factor reflects the fact that companies outside the immediate sector - typically, financial institutions - remain keen to hire engineering graduates, valuing the clear thinking and analytical approach they bring.

"There's no doubt that the competition for talent has become much tougher in the past two years," says Connie Lam, human resources director at CLP Power Hong Kong. "Therefore, we have to make every effort to identify the best young people early and interest them in a career with the company."

These efforts begin through partnerships with local secondary schools and extend to internships and one-year scholarships. The aim is to ensure an up-to-date understanding of what engineering has to offer and to counteract a demographic shift that has seen fewer students choosing this path. "We always take a long-term view in formulating HR strategy," Lam says. "Part of that is to make sure students know how technology is changing. We also want them to see how CLP is investing to provide electricity for the mega-infrastructure projects and to support the government's vision on climate change."

Such developments, she notes, mean the business is always evolving. So, whether starting as graduate trainees, junior technicians or qualified professionals, recruits receive extensive training and development that continue throughout their career.

There are two distinct aspects to this. The first focuses on providing technical knowledge through formal instruction and on-the-job experience. For graduate trainees, this leads to chartered status in a specific discipline, such as electrical engineering.

The second concentrates on the "softer" side - leadership skills, management know-how and team-building exercises - to equip individuals for more senior positions and enable them to switch between different roles.

"Some people are looking to move into managerial roles leading a function or a team; others prefer to become subject matter experts," Lam says. "We have a commitment, though, to invest in ongoing training and development and provide a challenging career path."

TK Chiang, acting manager in CLP Power's system operation department, is quick to endorse that point. In nearly 20 years with the company, he has seen the increasing importance of multidisciplinary skills.

In the past three years he has worked on roles that included corporate planning, and is now overseeing the computer system that controls the power network.

"Every time I move, it is like a new job because each role is totally different and has its own challenges," he says. "In the frontline job, time to restore supply was always the number one priority. But in corporate planning where I was in charge of negotiating the scheme of control with the government, it required business and commercial knowledge and more `human' skills."

Chiang encourages potential recruits to look to the long term and to realise the importance of an employer's commitment to staff development. He notes that the engineering industry is very broad in scope. This means larger organisations, such as CLP, offer an expanding choice of international assignments and the chance to get involved in cutting-edge projects.

The company aims to be a leader in "green" technology, so the next few years will see the introduction of emission-control equipment, a transition to more renewable energy sources, and increased focus on energy efficiency and conservation initiatives. The commercial viability of electric vehicles is also likely to be a hot topic and may ultimately have a dramatic impact on Hong Kong's urban landscape.

"We are one of the first companies in Hong Kong to formulate strategies that support this vision," Chiang says. "Our engineers have the chance to involve themselves in so many different things."

That is something Winnie Lau has come to appreciate. Three years after completing a degree in electrical engineering at Polytechnic University, Lau is overseeing maintenance projects at CLP's Castle Peak power station as a grade two engineer in generation integrated services.

"Doing a three-month internship the summer before graduation definitely helped me to understand the company," Lau says. "I was developing e-learning packs and saw that the company put a lot of resources into training young engineers, not just in their first one or two years."

Confident of that support, she has now set herself a series of career milestones. "I want to be in charge of larger projects, So I can make use of all the skills I'm learning," she says.

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