There are different ways to follow one’s dreams. Some choose to stick to the tried-and-tested paths trodden by predecessors. Some choose to break new ground and pave their own ways. VTC alumnus Mr Wong Hon Fai (here below as HF) exudes an air of wisdom and courage like a pioneer. Starting out as an apprentice in an air-conditioning engineering company, HF has persistently pursued education to enrich his knowledge and to acquire higher qualifications. From an apprentice, he was promoted to be an engineer, a project director, and ultimately, the general manager of a building construction engineering division. Together with his project team, they earned LEED Professional Accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council, which is amongst one of the first batch of building professionals with such a credential in Hong Kong.
HF is serving as the Immediate Past Chair of the Chartered Institute of Building (Hong Kong), the Executive Vice Chairman of Association of Hong Kong Professionals, and some key positions of other professional organizations; HF also actively involves in community services, including serves as a member in District Fire Safety Committee, Construction Industry Council and Building Department etc.; HF encourages young people to join the industry, seize opportunities and forge their own paths.
Craftsman training lays solid foundation
HF said frankly that his glorious career in the construction engineering management sector has humble beginnings. After graduating from a technical school (Technical Institute of Salesiano), he was hired by an air-conditioning engineering company as a “student boy”, the equivalent of an apprentice today, to learn from his supervisor. Apart from honing his manual technical skills, he also wished to boost his competitiveness by furthering his education.
Creating his own opportunity with courage
Back then, HF made a bold proposal to his boss – instead of taking part-time evening courses after work, he wished to take one day off each week for a full day course in VTC in order to acquire the qualification to shorten the studying time frame. He could have never imagined how this move has changed his life. “There was no precedent of this kind in the company at that time, but I dared to make such request to my boss because I was desperate to build my theoretical engineering knowledge quickly to facilitate the daily tasks for the company.” The boss appreciated HF’s initiative and turned out to be very understanding with a special permit for his study, HF was enrolled in a Part-Time Day-Release Certificate Programme in Electrical Engineering at Haking Wong Technical Institute (the precursor of IVE Haking Wong). The school boasted positive learning culture and students would study together and prepare for exams. Even though all students had busy working schedule and classes were jam-packed, they all found the experience enjoyable. “It’s because we volunteered to go back to school and we were hungry for knowledge. We cherished every minute of learning.”
Career and learning go hand in hand
Looking back on those two years he spent at VTC, HF was glad that the programme substantially enriched his knowledge and broadened his horizons. Even now, he still thinks enrolling in a VTC programme was the best choice he could have made in the beginning of his career path. “Part-time programmes are the best choice to balance earning and studying – you have a job that generates a stable income, and you can learn at the same time. The knowledge you make in the classroom complements with your work, and you can get things done more easily on your job. From time to time, I also got to communicate with classmates who worked in the same industry. They kept me well-informed about the updated career prospect and opportunities in the market, and motivated me to climb up the social ladder.”
To achieve upward mobility, you need qualifications. HF acquired a Certificate and a Higher Certificate with completing a one-year Endorsement Certificate programme. After he had accumulated enough working experience, he was promoted to an engineer, taking charge of various building services engineering projects. “I had the chance to supervise different types of projects. Both my scope of work and my career horizons were broadened in major ways.”
Studying abroad in pursuit of lifelong learning
HF understood the importance of continuing education. But owing to the shortage of university degree places in Hong Kong at that time, he and a few like-minded classmates decided to head to the U.K. to further their studies. HF was accepted into a Master’s Degree Programme in an Engineering course at London South Bank Polytechnic (now London South Bank University). “As I have an engineering background, a professor from Hong Kong at the South Bank Polytechnic suggested that I might as well consider to step onto a wider path of career in construction management. It happened that the Polytechnic just launched a new Master Course in Construction Management that year, so I took the challenge with my Hong Kong classmate, and finally became the first batch of graduates of the Course.” After he was conferred a Master’s degree, he returned to Hong Kong. Thanks to his qualifications, hard work and profound experience, he was hired by a construction company with some important projects. And his career in construction management took off in a brighter way.
Contribution to Successful Iconic Landmark and Green Building Projects
HF has been involved in many iconic projects, including the newly completed Hong Kong Palace Museum, Studio City in Macau with a figure-eight-shaped Ferris wheel, Hysan Place in Causeway Bay, and SkyPlaza at Hong Kong International Airport. These projects are full of challenges.
For example, he was the General Manager of building division for Hong Kong Palace Museum, which is the most eye catching, and a world class project in West Kowloon Cultural District. It achieves high appreciation from the West Kowloon Culture District Authority and Hong Kong Jockey Club owing to completion within schedule, excellent quality and safety record.
On the other hand, HF was the Senior Construction Manager of the developer of Hysan Place construction project, which was recognised by the U.S. Green Building Council for its advanced design and architectural concepts. It was the first building in Hong Kong to receive a “platinum” certification in the category of Core and Shell Development according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the highest level offered in Hong Kong at that time. HF also signed up for relevant LEED courses with his project team. They ended up among the first batch of building professionals to certify as the LEED Professional Accreditation (LEED AP). As the society’s demand for sustainable development and green buildings grows by the day, such a professional title would greatly elevate his competitiveness within the market.
Professionalism that shapes the future
Despite his hectic schedule as the General Manager of building division in a large-scale construction and engineering company to oversee building construction projects, HF still makes time to serve his professional community. As the present Immediate Past Chair of The Chartered Institute of Building (Hong Kong), or CIOB (HK), he encourages engineers to join various professional bodies, so as to share knowledge and exchange experiences with fellow engineers, while spurring progress of the industry as a whole. Since 2014, members of CIOB (HK) have been granted the title of Chartered Construction Manager which is a highly reputable status recognised in the U.K. That serves as a major recognition of the professionalism of CIOB (HK) members.
In addition, to encourage more young people with lofty aspirations to join the industry, HF gave hints that CIOB (HK) had plans to add a new category of Technical Grade Members in addition to Fellow and full members. “We hope to attract young people who haven’t got a bachelor’s degree yet, and those who are receiving vocational education to join CIOB (HK). We want to help them on their road to becoming building construction professionals and construction managers.”
In view of the numbers of large-scale construction projects that will be commencing in Hong Kong, including the Northern Metropolis, the ten-year Hospital Development Plan and the Lantau Tomorrow Vision, HF believes that the present moment is a golden opportunity for young people. He hopes more young people to seize the opportunity and join the construction industry, putting their talent to good use while opening up promising career paths for themselves.