Dear members

In Hong Kong’s history, which dates back to 1842, there used to be a common description of it as "a barren rock with nary a house upon it."  While this description may not have been historically accurate, it is a useful expression that I took as a point of departure for my talk “From Barren Rock to Metropolis; to Greener, Smarter and Happier”, on 25 April, for Hong Kong Metropolitan University’s lecture series “Talk of the Metropolis”.  The slides of the talk can be found here.

Although Hong Kong’s first reclamation began as early as 1852 at Bonham Strand and some infrastructures were developed since roughly the same time frame to support entrepôt trade at the southern doorstep of the Mainland, the development of large-scale infrastructures and housing only commenced during the post-WWII baby boom and influx of migrants.  The population surged from 0.6 million to about two million in just five years and thereafter at about the rate of one million per decade.  The transformation from a post-war ruin to Asia's World City (not to mention one of the Four Asian Dragons and then an international financial hub) is truly a miraculous phenomenon.  Though this was the joint efforts of many people and professionals, our predecessors in the profession, serving silently in the frontline, played a central role in making this miracle happen.

As early as the 1950s, engineers were already helping with the regeneration of the community through their contributions to various development initiatives, ranging from waterworks to the creation of satellite towns such as Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, and Kwai Chung.

Following the riots in the late 60s, the colonial government launched a series of policy reforms to restore public confidence, including housing, transportation, and welfare facilities.  Many of the initiatives that laid the foundation for the city's economic growth and prosperity, such as the Ten-year Housing Programme and the New Town Programme, date from this period.  The nine new towns, which were mostly built on reclaimed land, house nearly half of our population today.  Highways and railways, which until then did not exist or existed in primitive forms, also began to evolve.  All these enterprises owed their success to the ingenuity and industry of our engineers, who are truly the unsung heroes of this epic tale.

The city's potential for growth is far from exhausted. "Hong Kong 2030+", a strategic study on Hong Kong's territorial spatial development, has set sustainable development as the overarching goal for our future.  To achieve this goal, the government is committed to enhancing the liveability of this high-density city, preparing us for new economic challenges, and establishing the necessary conditions for sustainable development.  Central to these visions and governing the various projects and initiatives that seek to realise them is the idea of the Two Metropolises and the Two Development Axes.  This study also lays the foundation for the recently published “Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Development Blueprint”, which sets out how we are to take forward new-industrialisation and the development of I&T hub.  

For us engineers, this means that opportunities will be plentiful, no matter which of the 21 disciplines we belong to.  That was the reason why, after walking through Hong Kong’s past, present and future with the audiences, I concluded my talk at HKMU by saying “There is no reason not to feel proud of being an engineer since it is a noble profession with a promising future.”

However, it also means that the need for nurturing successors to meet these challenges and opportunities for our profession is more urgent than ever.  Consistent with the findings in our report promulgated in April last year, according to CIC's recent Manpower Forecast, by 2027, the shortage of construction-related engineering professionals, especially in civil, electrical, environmental, and geotechnical disciplines, will be considerable, amounting to 16% - 25% in severe cases.  The four- to five-fold increase of the GDP share of I&T’s and new-industrialisation will also bring with it an increase in the demand for engineers across disciplines.  Action must be taken to address this situation.

In view of this serious shortage, any effort to nurture future engineers ought to begin with, if not centre on, the promotion of STEAM education in primary and secondary schools.  The HKIE's school support programme "Engineers on Campus u{z," our joint effort with the Education Bureau, was created with this end in mind.  The aim of the programme is to forge partnerships between schools and our HKIE members in co-designing different learning activities like seminars, workshops, mentoring programmes, and field studies.  Structured around themes like "Engineering for Daily Life," "Engineering for Arts and Entertainments," and "Engineering for Smarter Living," these activities would, we hope, spark students' interest in pursuing engineering work.

Apart from “Engineers on Campus”, we will soon launch a Mother School Home Coming initiative, which, you might remember, was announced at my Presidential Address last year.  I am now finalising the detailed proposal and will roll it out once it is ready.  Please stay tuned for it.  It will need all your support and participation, just as the formation of “Spirit Bomb” needs borrowed energy from everyone. 

Our forerunners took a "barren rock" and turned it into the metropolis that we are so familiar with.  It remains for us to overcome the obstacle of manpower shortage and, with our successors' help, secure a greener, smarter, and happier future for our beloved city.

Yours sincerely

Ir Aaron BOK Kwok-ming