SCMP Saturday, September 22, 2001

Building on a hard-won degree


Name: Stanley Chan Wang-kei.
Job: Senior project manager, International Finance Centre development project (Phases I and II). Responsibilities include overseeing building design and construction details, especially the routing of electricity, water and air conditioning. Currently working on IFC Phase II, a consortium project led by Sun Hung Kai Properties, Henderson Land Development, the Hong Kong and China Gas Company and the Sun Chung Estate Company.
Where did you go to school? The Fish Marketing Organisation Secondary Technical School in Aberdeen, though my father was not a fisherman. At that time we lived in Cheung Chau, so I had a long trip to school. My day started at about 5am.
Did you enjoy it? It was not ideal, and the general standard of education wasn't very high, but I still enjoyed my time there. However, I did not perform well in my Form Five exams - I was a bit of a "bad boy". Around this time my family moved, first to Wan Chai, then to Tuen Mun, where I retook Form Five, determined to do better.
Favourite subjects? Basketball and volleyball! My maths was okay, but I preferred sport. My Form Five results were better second time around, but still not good enough to continue an academic education.
What happened? I was unsure what to do for a while, but then I came across a prospectus for the Vocational Training Council and was accepted for a diploma course in marine and fabrication engineering. I chose it simply because my options were limited, it was near my home and I had been in the sea scouts. I had no idea if it would lead to a good job.
Was it a good choice? It turned out to be both very enjoyable and beneficial for my career. Beneficial because my course tutor had done a degree rather late in his career in the UK and advised me not to make the same mistake. After this I was determined to save up and go to university in England.
You had to work to save money? Yes. I got a lousy job in a factory, but I quit and found a better one, also in manufacturing, but at least it gave me time to do a day-release higher certificate course in mechanical engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic, as it was then called. After two years I qualified, but still lacked the money to go to England.
What next? I decided to get out of manufacturing because I found it boring and switched to the building industry. I got a job working with fire-services installations and found that I much preferred this work because it involved much greater variety from day to day. After a year I finally had enough money to go to England to do my degree.
Which was? A four-year bachelor's degree in building services engineering at Newcastle University. This involved two work placements, but I was exempted the first year because of my higher certificate. In 1993 I returned to Hong Kong for the work placements because my wife had given birth to our baby. I started working for Sun Hung Kai in 1997.
Are you studying at the moment? I'm doing a master of science degree in building services engineering at the University of Hong Kong, which will take two or three years part-time. I also intend to do an MBA when I get around to doing the GMAT English test. I'll need the MBA because my job increasingly requires financial and people management skills.
Can you recommend any courses? There are courses in building services engineering at the Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong, but many people also get into the area through mechanical and electrical engineering courses.
Good and bad aspects? I find my work very satisfying, and really enjoy moving from one project to the next, as it offers great variety. It can be very frustrating when there is an economic downturn, though, because we often have to cut costs.
What would you do differently? If I could start again I would do architecture.
How important is education? If you do not get a good education you might spend the rest of your working life in a lousy job. Promotion might also come slowly. Once I got my degree I was able to move straight into consultancy work, and that opened up a range of new opportunities. So I have no doubt that getting a degree was a good idea for me.
Various courses in building services engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering are offered by:
University of Hong Kong School of Professional and Continuing Education: Tel 2111 8774.
University of Hong Kong: Tel 2859 7040
Hong Kong Polytechnic University: Tel 2766 5111
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology: Tel 2358 6139
Chinese University of Hong Kong: Tel 2609 8899
City University: Tel 2788 7654