Hong Kong’s growing railway network and the construction peak of several multibillion projects have boosted demand for railway professionals.
Among others, the city is revving up construction of the 17-kilometer Shatin to Central Link and the 26-km. local section of the express railway link to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, both of which are scheduled to be up and running between 2018 and 2019.
More railway projects are also in the pipeline, including the East Kowloon Line, a feeder line that runs partially in parallel with the Kwun Tong Line, a Northern Link to enable direct interchange between the East and West Rail Lines in northern New Territories, as well as a westward extension of the Tung Chung Line.
Hong Kong is facing a “talent crunch” arising from these mega projects. MTR’s expanding overseas operations across the mainland, Europe and Australia have put further strain. The rail operator is also experiencing a spike in retirement – 800 employees a year on average for the next five years – and recruiting new blood to replenish staff headcount is high on its agenda.
Media reports say in recent years a train driver can take home about HK$20,000 per month and salaries for supervisory levels such as station officer ranged from HK$40,000-HK$70,000, plus fringe benefits like free MTR rides for immediate family members, year-end double pay, food allowance, etc.
Relatively low entrance threshold — Form 5 level or above — is also attracting those who are crowded out in the scramble for publicly funded tertiary education places.
To rear railway talent, the MTR Academy was announced in the 2016 Policy Address, and the training school at Hung Hom station was inaugurated in November last year.
The academy boasts state-of-the-art facilities, including simulators for train cabs and mock tracks and tunnels.
Those aspiring to benefit from the railway tailwind can enroll for a two-year part-time program, Railway Engineering Advanced Diploma. Based on assessment results, students with a higher score will have priority to enter their chosen stream, namely power distribution, signal and communications, permanent way and rolling stock, in the second year, MTR said in a press briefing.
Thirty-two students are in the program’s first cohort.
Among them is a thirty-four-year-old chief IT technician currently working at a large local bank.
Surnamed Chan, he enrolled in the program intending to change professions. He attends class twice a week after work.
“IT is used not only in the banking sector, but also the railway industry. The design, maintenance and development of railway communication, payment and passenger volume calculation systems are all possible future careers I can consider,” he told the Hong Kong Economic Journal.
After completing his studies, he hopes to find a job that pairs his IT expertise with the railway industry.
MTR Academy president Morris Cheung said graduates have the opportunity to be employed as a junior engineer or technician.
“The graduates should have great opportunity to find a job in the MTR or in railway-related companies.”
The next round of applications for the program will open in June.
The academy also offers short courses, Railway 101, for train enthusiasts, with a ride inside the driver’s cabin, site visits to tunnels as well as simulated driving with virtual reality technologies.
The Railway 101 course is mainly an experience for attendees. It enables applicants to fully understand the basic knowledge of railway operations in a two-hour course.
The courses are proving popular, attracting 200 people so far.
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