Just like plants, human can only thrive when provided with the appropriate growing environment and nutrients. Johnson Luk, currently a project manager at the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi), has always believed in this philosophy. Right after graduating from secondary school, he chose to enrol in VTC’s Foundation Diploma programme to lay solid groundwork that strikes a balance between academic study and practical placement. Upon procurement of his diploma, Johnson embarked on a continuous journey of further education toward self-improvement. Though the journey was not paved with major adversities, he has to fight against the forces of nature on his job. No matter what, he never fails to rise to the challenge with perseverance and unwavering faith.
Go for your passion, work hard and do it step by step
Speaking of his journey of further education, Johnson admitted that his decision to pick environmental study as his major was based on his childhood dream. Having loved the nature and environment since young, he was enrolled in Foundation Diploma (Applied Science) at IVE right after he graduated from secondary school, in a view to reinforce his basic knowledge toward the subject matter that has always interested him. Later on, he furthered his study in the Higher Diploma programme in Environmental Protection and Management at IVE. Johnson said, “In addition to theoretical knowledge, our instructors also delivered the classes outside of the traditional classroom settings. We had chances to observe the birds in the field or take sea water samples for experiments. The courses were truly fulfilling, fun and light-hearted.” When it comes to campus life, Johnson sure enjoyed it to the fullest. “I was once the chairman of a student society and had chances to arrange internships and job placements with various organizations. I never stopped looking for more opportunities for myself and my classmates to apply what we learnt and to expose ourselves to the industry culture, which I believed would come handy when we enter the workforce in future.”
After the conferment of his higher diploma, Johnson seized the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental science in the U.K. Returning to Hong Kong in 2008 amidst uncertain economic climate, he encountered a decline in market demand for workers in the environmental protection sector. However, he was not frustrated and was fortunate enough to be hired by a horticultural services company. “The job was not directly related to my stream of study, but that’s okay. At least I could still apply some of my relevant knowledge to the job.” While Johnson took initiatives to learn more about horticultural engineering on the job, he even acquired the qualification as a registered arborist and has developed his career steadily in the industry.
Forge ahead with no fear of adversities
When asked about amusing anecdotes at work, Johnson opined that horticultural work is trials and hardships in disguise. “As opposed to other outdoor jobs, horticulturists have to face the challenges from the nature.” Having worked as a horticulturist for over 10 years, Johnson has got used to the changing working environment under different weather conditions in various seasons, including the scorching sun and the torrential downpours. “In the rainy season, we have to keep weeding continuously to catch up with its speedy growth. In the storm season, we have to check the soundness of the plants more rigorously, and have to clean up any fallen trees quickly after typhoons. Compared with a street cleaner or those working in a construction site, a horticulturist has to take more risks and deal with more uncertainties. Therefore, we attach great importance to the safety of front-line employees to avoid accidents."
Johnson shouldered lots of responsibilities on his job and had to manage a group of veteran horticulturists. “When I first joined the company, I had to handle the garden maintenance contracts in all the 12 districts in Hong Kong. On top of that, I had to lead a squad of about 800 front-line horticulturists, whose average age is higher than the normal retirement age!” To blend in with these experienced workers, he would show up on the spot to guide them and work side by side with them. He also reminded them to take safety precautions and to use power tools whenever possible, such as removing fallen trees after a typhoon. As a manager, Johnson never puts on airs. He always puts himself in others’ shoes and takes actions to strengthen his bond with the team. Not only does he manage to bridge the generation gap, but also encourages mutual collaborations among teammates.
Create value for yourself; give back to alma mater
Johnson has overcome countless adversities and challenges both from the nature and in the workplace. However, in 2016, he resolutely quitted his job and went back to school once more. “Though the technologies in horticultural engineering industry do not advance as swiftly as those of the high-tech industry, I don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud accustomed to traditions and refusing to change. By pursuing further education, I hope to learn something that caters to the upcoming market needs.” In fact, Johnson was among the first cohort of students enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Horticulture and Landscape Management at THEi. “The programme makes up for my lack of theoretical knowledge in horticulture, such as plant diseases and insects, plant propagation, lawn management, and arboriculture among other.” Then Johnson went on to conduct researches on trends such as smart cities and sustainable development with what he learnt. In 2019, he spent one year to acquire a Master’s degree in Programme and Project Management from WMG, the University of Warwick as he keeps moving on his journey of lifelong learning. Johnson said, “In the Master's programme, I met professionals from various industries, exchanged ideas with them and learnt about their strengths. Theories covered in classes, such as time management skills and human resource management, are highly useful to my daily tasks. I have truly learnt a lot.”
Being a project manager at THEi right now, Johnson is responsible for the management of greening facilities and garden maintenance on the campus. He was involved in the establishment of urban farms and themed greenhouses at THEi, and is currently responsible for the design of the hydroponic centre. “I’m honoured to be working at my alma mater and be able to put my knowledge and experience to good use. I wish I can give back to THEi in return for years of dedicated teaching by the instructors. In the future, we will organize different horticultural and organic farming classes to help promote campus sustainability.” Johnson hopes these greening projects would promote interdisciplinary academic exchanges, instil basic gardening knowledge among students and the public, arouse young people’s interest to join the horticulture industry, and deepen the knowledge of the sector among the general public. Here’s his advice to all younger VTC students, “Dare to move forward!” No matter when, always rise to the challenge with an unyielding attitude. Seize the opportunities and head toward your goal.