[ Ir Albert Lai 's Series of Letters to Engineers (1/12)]
Dear Engineer Friends,
Just a few months ago, an engineer graduated in the year 1997 told me his story. One late night while he was boarding the train for his home in the NT after a long day's work, his mobile phone rang. It was his mom, asking, not without some displeasure, why he had not come over for dinner in the past month. Totally exhausted from work, he did not bother to say much and quickly hang up. On that very night, he couldn't fall asleep because this very question kept haunting him --- why he still couldn't afford to live in a small apartment in the metro area after working for eleven years, so that he and his wife could visit their parents more often?
So how did we engineers actually fare in the last eleven years? Long working hours; insecure job prospects; poorer remuneration than many professions; cut-throat competition in tendering; all talks of reforms still hanging in the air; the idea of professionalism is being challenged as top-down decisions are made by non-professionals. After eleven years of stifling air, we now seem to face a deadlock for the engineering profession. Some young engineers got so frustrated that they simply left the profession for careers in insurance or finance. The risk of a talent gap in the profession is emerging.
Why would we engineers come to this? Is this really the fate of being an engineer in Hong Kong ?
Of course, it is no surprise that every profession experiences its ups and downs as time changes. Yet the last decade should have been the golden years for engineers, as globalisation has favoured a knowledge-based economy; Hong Kong people are aspiring for a better environment through new developments; and the integration with Mainland China is spurring more demands for infrastructural projects. Yet, despite all these favourable factors, we engineers are facing the worst instead of getting the best.
Last week, I happened to meet again at an HKIE function the same engineer who couldn't find time to visit his parents. I offered some solutions on how to remove the obstacles facing the development of the Central-Wanchai Bypass. As that engineer happens to be one of the members of this project team, we started to chat very enthusiastically. From his eyes, I can see that he still had much passion for the profession – the kind of passion typical to every engineer in the seminar room.
I believe that all engineers, when they chose to study engineering, were full of enthusiasm for the profession itself and were pleased to make it their life long career and their personal mission, just like what I did myself some thirty years ago at the university. They chose to become an engineer not just for the remuneration, but rather the pride of dedicating themselves to a respectable profession.
I believe the real cause of the eleven-year deadlocks lie not in the so-called "bad times", "bad luck" or "bad try". Should we not trace the root of all these to a matter of personality, a question of governance, or the persistence of an outdated mode of thinking?
We must go on, and the way forward should be made broader and brighter. The current President of the Institute of Civil Engineers , Ir David Orr, spoke at the inauguration ceremony about his vision for engineers as "people acclaimed for merit, in the heart of society."
Here in Hong Kong , we engineers should no doubt have the courage to achieve more.
Ir Albert K T Lai
Graduation photo with my wife -- aspirations for the future
A career in the engineering profession
Assistant Resident Engineer at the Shatin Sewage Treatment Works