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Former Director of Water Supplies goeshand in hand withIVE Engineering to professionalisePlumbingIndustry
  • <p>“Academic studies and working experiences are equally important. Knowing how to do certain tasks and understanding the reasons behind are two different things.”</p>
  • <p>“Academic studies and working experiences are equally important. Knowing how to do certain tasks and understanding the reasons behind are two different things.”</p>

“Academic studies and working experiences are equally important. Knowing how to do certain tasks and understanding the reasons behind are two different things.”

Mar 2014

Water is the lifeblood of any city, to which Hong Kong is no exception. As rainwater catchments are hardly sufficient to satisfy our demand for water, Hong Kong arrived at the decision to purchase Dongjiang water from Guangdong province in 1960s, which has since become the main source of Hong Kong’s water supplies. Given the natural constraints, it is certainly a daunting challenge to manage our city’s water resources, and very few people know as much about Hong Kong’s water management as Professor William Ko Chan-gock, who served as the Director of Water Supplies from 2001 to 2006.

“Water is most important. Civilisations began in river banks, not only is it the case in China, but also the whole world.” The paramount importance of water – to citizens and society – is one of the many motivations that kept Professor Ko going during his almost four decade-long career in water management.

After obtaining an engineering degree from the University of Hong Kong, Professor Ko joined the government as an apprentice engineer in 1968. He then specialised in water engineering, as the Hong Kong government sponsored him to pursue a postgraduate degree in water resources technology at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom in 1976-77. Nine years later, he was promoted to chief engineer. Professor Ko quickly ascended the career ladder and finally took helm of the Water Supplies Department in 2001.

As Hong Kong’s own water resources can barely satisfy the ever increasing demand, the government came up with the solution to purchase Dongjiang water from Guangdong province in the 1960s, which ended days of water rationing in Hong Kong. From nailing down the technical details of pipes of the Dongshen Water Supply Project as an engineer to negotiating the terms of the Dongshen Water Supply Agreement as the department director, Professor Kc’s career was intertwined with Dongjiang water, hence he had the nickname “Mr. China Water” among colleagues and media.

Balance is the key to water management in Hong Kong. “The Water Supplies Department needs to communicate with mainland regularly. We can't get too little and it has to be the right amount. If we get too much, the water will go down the drains,” said Professor Ko. After stepping down as the Director of Water Supplies, Professor Ko has not ceased contributing to the field of water engineering.

Despite the importance to society, the plumbing industry has not been thoroughly professionalised and lacks standardised qualifications. It is still dominated by traditional plumbers and apprentices; professional programmes for plumbing engineers are not offered here. “Academic studies and working experiences are equally important. Knowing how to do certain tasks and understanding the reasons behind are two different things,” said Professor Ko. “If you know both, it is easier to fix problems. It will also create more room for improvement.”

To address such issues, Professor Ko has worked with IVE and the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi), another member institute of the Vocational Training Council, to launch a host of academic programmes in plumbing engineering. Professor Ko has been an external examiner at IVE for years, so the new programmes will mark another stage of cooperation between Professor Ko and the institute. “The programmes will offer non-conventional paths to become chartered engineers,” said Professor Ko.

IVE currently offers a Professional Diploma Programme (QF Level 4) in Plumbing Engineering, and students can proceed to pursue a Professional Diploma (QF Level 5) in Plumbing and Environmental Engineering. The graduates can opt to enroll in the third year of a Degree Programme in Environmental Engineering and Management offered by THEi. Next, Professor Ko together with THEi will also work with the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers to formulate the specific requirements for plumbing personnel to register as professional plumbing engineers.

Plumbing engineer is a promising profession, especially when working at the Water Supplies Department or designing drainage systems in new buildings. “The field has attracted a lot of new blood because of attractive career package,” said Professor Ko. Even though academic qualifications are important, Professor Ko does not think that diplomas alone can make professional plumbing engineers. “Devotion is essential and they should be interested in plumbing engineering. They have to treat it as a lifelong career.”

Engineering Discipline