Ivy Kong and Grace Tam on the Journey towards Gender Equality and Nurturing Young Minds in Hong Kong’s Engineering Industry

Ivy and Grace are currently the active members of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE).

Ivy is Chief Executive Officer, Asia of WSP (Asia) Limited. With more than 20 years’ experience in engineering consultancy and an established track record in delivering major infrastructure projects, she has been leading WSP’s operation in Asia since 2019. Ivy has a strong track record in winning and successfully delivering major infrastructure projects across the region including the Greater China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and India.

 Grace is Geotechnical Engineer at Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. She joined the Government in 2017 and she is at present responsible for geotechnical control of building developments and civil engineering works in Hong Kong. Over the years, she has organised many events for the industry and public to promote engineering and enhance communication among practitioners.

As a female engineer, what have been some of the challenges and satisfaction throughout your career? Why do you think even today, we are still referring to you as female engineers rather than engineers?
Grace: While most engineers I have interacted with have been ‘gender-neutral’, I acknowledged that sometimes stereotyping does exist. The stereotype label could be a barrier to some young female students entering the engineering profession. The biggest challenge as a female engineer is to rip off the label from others. There were a few moments when I felt embarrassed with others’ inappropriate attitude with bias; however, it was important to call out the inequalities and be part of the solutions.

Having a voice in the conversation is the most effective way of shaping the future. Most of the time I can see how changes could be made in a positive way after expressing my perspectives. Also, one of the best pieces of advice I have received from my female mentor is to hone your own personal development as recognition and opportunity, in essence, reflect your ability.

Perceptions are shifting. It is heartening to see that more and more talented ladies participating in the industry of engineering. Over the years, I have met many incredible female engineers from whom I have learnt so much. I wish that in the very near future, the stereotype of men dominating the field will diminish and no one will pay special attention to the gender of any engineer. We are all engineers who are dedicated to transforming the world with technology and rigour.

How to attract more young people to join the engineering industry?
Ivy: The industry is rewarding and impactful to the sustainable development of the world. It is a key driving force of economic growth, and we definitely need new and young blood to bring in energy, ingenuity and passion.

At WSP, we always prioritise our people and put their needs and expectations at the core of our people strategy. We strive to create a positive and supportive workplace culture to foster a diverse and inclusive environment; recognise their contributions; offer learning and development opportunities; and care for their well-being. All of these are essential for attracting and retaining talents and achieving business objectives.

We must keep pace with the times and accelerate technological progress in order to provide a wider range of exciting emerging career options for the next generation. For today’s young people, they look for more than just a job, but a workplace where they can seek their purpose, and feel supported to enable them to thrive. We provide a platform for them and we believe that clear and future-oriented vision and values can inspire our young talents to join the industry and contribute to the community.

A career talk with students at HKUST; image by WSP

Grace: The accelerated, highly rapidly-changing technological development nowadays has created higher demand for new blood. I believe no one will disagree that the industry is craving for young talents to join in order to take up the challenges ahead. I believe the key is to enhance public understanding of engineering, like how engineers shape the world and bring creative solutions to create the future.

Sometimes, the public perception and understanding of the engineering profession can be very limited. They may still think that engineers are working in difficult environments with highly demanding workloads. It is a very old-fashioned and outdated stereotype of the industry. Nowadays there are smarter, faster and people-oriented ways of work for engineers. Frankly speaking, there is much more variety available nowadays and I can say there is a job for all types of personal preferences in this highly versatile industry.

Societal shift of focus can be achieved by better engaging the public, especially the parents and teachers who have an important impact on inspiring students to join the industry. It is about awareness of the importance of engineering in everyone’s daily life. It may not be as easy as it sounds in highly-developed cities like Hong Kong, which is already reliant on leading infrastructure, where the younger generation may not be aware of how life has improved by means of engineering wonders.

A promotion programme on engineering at a primary school; image by Grace Tam

What are the new technologies and applications emerging in the industry?
Ivy: The construction industry is undergoing a major digital transformation. We embrace emerging technologies to develop future-proof solutions and provide end-to-end digital consulting. Our focus on digital planning, design and project management enhances our traditional engineering capabilities.

Digital transformation is about creating new ways of working that prioritise people. Hence, we embrace how users connect with technologies and applications to achieve the best outcomes for clients and communities.

For example, WSP deployed robotic technologies and automation systems for the Hospital Authority Supporting Services Centre to improve workflow, implement unmanned operations and increase productivity. The engineering team first deeply understood daily supporting hospital operations through discussions with frontline staff before planning suitable robotic and smart technologies. For instance, in addition to robotic arms, an intelligent conveyor belt system, automated guided vehicle (AGV) and smart laundry management system utilise image processing technology and AI to identify, locate, classify and assess garment and linen conditions.

While BIM has been widely adopted in the industry, we integrate and extend BIM and other applications within a common data environment and utilise off-site manufacturing to improve overall construction efficiency. This approach ensures accuracy, quality assurance, effective cost and time control.

Another example is the adoption of openBIM in The Henderson project. This approach achieved interoperability, traceability, reliability and sustainability for more collaborative, efficient asset management and performance, earning WSP the 2022 openBIM Awards.

Adoption of openBIM in The Henderson project; image by WSP

Read: The Henderson

We are keen to explore more emerging technologies in the design and solution offerings—digital twin technology would be an example to bring engineering design to the next level. We leverage technology ecosystems like IoT sensors, networking, advanced analytics, machine learning, AI and digital platforms to understand current performance, model, monitor, optimise assets and predict the future of buildings.

The list of new technologies is endless, but the key is to utilise our mindset and technological know-how to support broader objectives of our clients and the built environment, such as expediting decarbonisation, enhancing user experience and improving operational excellence.

How do you see the opportunities and future of Hong Kong’s engineering industry?
Ivy: I am very positive about the prospects of Hong Kong’s engineering industry as both private and public sectors remain active in land development and urban renewal. As stipulated in the territorial spatial development strategy Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030, Hong Kong’s built and natural environments will be shaped to enhance liveability, create economic opportunities and spur sustainable growth.

The development plans including the Northern Metropolis, Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands and the on-going redevelopment of ageing districts are strategic solutions to address housing shortage. The commercial landscape is evolving as well due to the requisites of remodelling, renovation and new office supply.

Additionally, Hong Kong strives to be a world-class smart city. In achieving this, it takes our engineers’ ingenuity and digital know-how to adopt smart features in existing and new buildings and infrastructure to connect systems, bridge people and technology and increase sustainability and resilience, while maintaining safe and efficient operations. The advancement of technologies has presented many project opportunities to forge a smart Hong Kong.

Thanks to Hong Kong’s close ties with mainland China, especially the Greater Bay Area, we see collaboration opportunities in developing innovation and technological hubs in the area. Our engineering industry can take advantage of its profound and strong project track record and explore new possibilities in neighbouring regions. Our fellow engineers can surely leverage our strengths in innovation, quality and professionalism to seize the opportunities ahead, as well as to achieve a sustainable and competitive future.

The Hong Kong Engineers Week 2023, organised by HKIE, was held from 3 to 11 March 2023. What was the key focus of the event?
Organised under the theme Our Future, We Engineer, the Hong Kong Engineers Week (HKEW) was held successfully. Engineers from different disciplines with their friends and families gathered for a series of events aimed at showcasing and celebrating the contribution, diversity and professionalism of engineers, as well as the latest advancements in the field of engineering towards a smart future. I have participated in a few events under the campaign and was glad to meet engineers from different disciplines.

Read: The Hong Kong Engineers Week 2023 Promotes Professionalism of Engineers

The Hong Kong Engineers Week Carnival; image by Grace Tam

My personal highlight of the campaign was the HKEW Carnival, the flagship event of the week and a tremendous success in attracting over 15,000 participants. I noticed that different parties and HKIE Divisions have set up around 40 game and educational booths to let the next generation experience the importance of engineering in our daily lives, while demonstrating the diverse and rewarding career of engineers. It was impressive to see so many people from all walks of life interested in engineering. I believe that our next generation has noticed the beauty and contribution of the profession, and seeds have been sown for their pursuit of an engineering career. —Construction+ Online وان ایکس بت بت فوروارد