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CGeol Overseas - a HK persepctive

sfyjStuart Millis reflects on the steady growth in the importance of Chartered Geologist Status in Hong Kong.

Anyone who’s worked in Hong Kong won’t have failed to notice the local love of business cards and the desire for collecting qualifications to print on them.  It will come as no surprise to most then that the CGeol qualification is currently flourishing in Hong Kong, with between five to 10 new applicants each year and over 85 Chartered Geologists registering Hong Kong as their base of operation.  What may surprise you though is how much time and effort has gone into reaching a situation where CGeol is seen as having parity with the professional qualifications obtained by our engineering brethren. 


The modern era of geotechnical engineering/engineering geology in HK (the field in which c. 90% of HK geologists operate) essentially kicked off in the late 1970s with the establishment of the Geotechnical Control Office in HK Government, now known as the Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO). The need arose because of a number of major landslides in 1972 and 1976 required Government action. Before this, significant inputs occurred in a more piecemeal manner with contributions to numerous major civil engineering projects and in particular the High Island Dam project.

With the creation of the GEO, a number of major slope safety initiatives resulted in the elevation of the role and need for geologists. In 1978-9, visionary applications of engineering geological/geomorphological mapping resulted in definition of the Mid Levels Moratorium for Building Development (May 1979). The Moratorium was implemented because of slope safety concerns over multi-storey re-development in one the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world (at the time).

This led to such seminal projects as the Mid Levels Study, the terrain classification-based Geotechnical Area Studies Programme (1979-1989), remapping the geology of HK and the creation of a permanent ‘Geological Survey of HK’ (1982). These all contributed to raising our profile and an influx of geologists.

The significance of sound geological input to projects was well recognised at the time, with engineering geologists filling senior positions in both Government engineering bodies and private consultancies. With Government support, a positive environment was created for public and private sector geologists to interact with those in the education sector - as shown by the formation of the Geological Society of Hong Kong in 1981. A GEO-led scheme to train engineering geological graduates was up and running by the mid 1980s, and highlighted the need for sound training and integration of skills. It also put pressure on academia for HK-based undergraduate courses, as the trainees were then all educated overseas.

Slope safety

With the increasing rate of development, geologists were not only involved in numerous slope-safety studies and a wealth of civil engineering and development projects, but also helped drive government policy on major livelihood issues of the day - including the need to re-house some 300,000 squatters on landslide-prone hillsides in 1983, and floodplain management after severe flooding (1987). Geologists were also deployed in the Housing Department to assist with major housing construction.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, geologists were instrumental in advancing the concept of ‘cavern’ development and contributed to pioneering work in management of fill supply, and contaminated mud disposal for a range of reclamation projects - including the new airport at Chek Lap Kok.  

However, these were generally ‘pre-CGeol’ days, and many geologists had to establish themselves either by perseverance and reputation or by obtaining engineering qualifications through the Geotechnical Discipline of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE).  Some were able to qualify for CEng through the IMMM. In the early 1990s, only a handful of Geologists held Chartered status.

Declining workloads in the late-1990s (following the completion of Chek Lap Kok Airport and  associated infrastructure) together with the knock-on impacts of the Asian Financial Crisis seemed to trigger a shift in the status of geologists in Hong Kong, with geotechnical departments of many companies becoming reliant on the Government’s Landslip Preventive Measures (LPM) Programme – geologists’ roles often being limited to supervision of ground investigation works, cutting geological sections and (with an enlightened employer) the odd bit of slope stability analysis and stabilisation design. 


A number of (largely successful) measures were taken by the geological community in the late 90s and early 2000s to redress the balance.  These included the establishment of the first local Earth science undergraduate course (1995) after almost 10 years of effort (which is now GSL-accredited, we’re happy to say!) the formation of the Hong Kong Regional Group (the first and only overseas Regional Group of the GSL, 2001); a push within Government and Consultancies for CGeol to be afforded equal status to engineering qualifications; the establishment of a ‘Resident Geologist’ role for supervision on projects where ground conditions played a major part (with CGeol as the defined required qualification for the position), and the specification of CGeol staffing requirements for tendering of some government projects.   

Overall, these efforts have been very successful and geologists in Hong Kong have enjoyed an increasingly prominent role in the conceptualisation, design and delivery of numerous major projects. Much credit should also be given to the impact of Company Accredited CGeol Training Programmes, which have been expanding rapidly in Hong Kong. This has done much to lift the profile of geologists within corporate structures and is proving very attractive to young graduates.

With increasing focus on geohazard assessment and underground engineering, it looks like the future for Chartered geologists remains bright. 

Stuart Millis, Chair, Hong Kong Regional Group