Building on a love of learning and knowledge sharing: President Ir Thomas Chan (By Secretariat)

Self Photos / Files - Photo of President Ir Thomas Chan

Interest and aptitude are both advantages for those pursuing a professional career, but as Ir Thomas Chan, the HKIE President for Session 2017/2018, will tell you, passion and dedication are even more important.

Ir Chan joined the engineering profession at a time when structured training was not yet established and worked his way up to become director for building mechanical, electrical and plumbing in the China region for WSP. The key to him becoming an electrical engineer were two inspiring teachers who were also engineers. 

"When I was in secondary school both my mathematics and physics teachers were engineers and I learnt about electromagnetism from them. It was rare to find engineers teaching in secondary schools so I was lucky," Ir Chan said.

After secondary school he enrolled at the former Hong Kong Polytechnic to study for a higher diploma in electrical engineering. Upon graduation in 1982, he joined an engineering firm that assigned him to work on a hotel project in Macau, thus beginning a fruitful career in building services engineering.

Further qualifications

Keen to improve his qualifications despite having already become a chartered engineer, Ir Chan took up an MSc in building services engineering at the UK's Brunel University in 1992. By then he had already joined Parsons Brinckerhoff, which was eventually acquired by WSP in 2014. 

The rapid development of Hong Kong in the 1990s, when the Airport Core Projects were in full swing, gave Ir Chan the opportunities to participate in major power transmission and distribution projects and to join forces with international designers and contractors. Designing the power supply system for the new airport island at Chek Lap Kok was a particularly memorable experience due to the size and complexity of the project, which required multi-disciplinary collaboration and international exposure.

With the arrival of the new millennium Ir Chan began to participate in a specialist area of building services engineering: healthcare facilities in hospitals.

"I'd never handled healthcare projects before, venturing into this new arena was challenging. In fact safe, reliable and effective healthcare engineering systems are vital in running a life-supporting hospital," he said. 

Following the SARS outbreak in 2003, his firm participated in the conversion of standard hospital wards into isolation wards. Towards the end of the 2000s, Ir Chan capitalised on the opportunities to improve health care facilities in Hong Kong, taking part in the development or redevelopment of both public and private hospitals.

A keen learner

The importance of learning to Ir Chan is reflected in his efforts to secure a postgraduate diploma in electrical power system when he was already an established professional. It is also showcased in his involvement in the educational sector - he sat on the Building Services Engineering and Electrical Engineering course advisory panels of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong and Institute of Vocational Education. Aware of the shortage of building services professionals and the need to increase supply by raising the number of university places available on building services engineering courses, Ir Chan also co-authored a paper on the importance of building services engineering in Hong Kong, to argue for more funding for building services engineering courses. 

Given his wealth of experience, Ir Chan is keen to nurture the next generation of engineers, in his professional as well as institutional capacities. As WSP's training director, he oversees the firm's Scheme "A" training programme. 

"There was no Scheme 'A' training in my time so I had to rely on training on the job. Today's young engineers have the benefits of a structured training to help them but they still need a better understanding of the foundational principles of engineering in order to advance their career. That's what I focus on when it comes to training the next generation," he said. 

Engineering a new horizon

Having served as the Branch Chairman and Council Member of various world-renowned engineering institutions including the CIBSE, the IET and the IHEEM, Ir Chan has consolidated his knowledge of best practice and hopes to bring a newer and more international perspective to his profession as President, by boosting collaboration between Hong Kong and places from around the globe, thereby broadening the horizons of both veteran and young professionals.

Not surprisingly, the theme of his session, "Engineering a New Horizon from 70 Years' Foundation", has a learning element to it. In addition to celebrating the establishment in 1947 of the learned society that preceded the HKIE, the Session will also look forward to the future, highlighting the skills and knowledge engineers will need to further their career in the age of smart cities and automation. 

"My advice for young engineers is this: build a solid foundation based on basic engineering principles; learn continuously to be up-to-date; build communication skills and adopt a positive attitude; and have a human approach to environmental, sustainability, and climate change issues," he said.

As an eager learner himself, young engineers can expect the mentoring process under Ir Chan to involve mutual learning that benefits not just the participants, but the profession as a whole.

By Angela TAM
Source: The HKIE's monthly Journal – Hong Kong Engineer July 2017 issue

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