Driven by the rapid growth of the aeronautical engineering and maintenance sector in Hong Kong, demand for qualified professionals specialising in aircraft maintenance is outstripping supply.
Thomas Ng, executive general manager for personnel at Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (Haeco), says more international and domestic airlines have been outsourcing servicing to local aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul organisations, mainly for better quality services and faster turn-around time.
"The greatest challenge has been to attract suitably qualified professionals to manage employees in a way that maintains high-quality services for customers, while enhancing production efficiency," he says.
Under a franchise agreement with the Airport Authority, Haeco is a full service provider which offers comprehensive maintenance packages at Hong Kong International Airport.
The company's services include line maintenance, which refers to transit checks for aircraft using the airport; base maintenance which deals with extensive scheduled maintenance checks; modifications; and aircraft overhaul.
Haeco operates maintenance facilities at Chek Lap Kok, and component and avionics overhaul facilities in Tseung Kwan O. Ng says the company's maintenance service divisions consist of about 3,000 employees.
Haeco recruited about 260 employees for its maintenance divisions in the first half of this year, and plans to hire 350 more in the second half. The company is the only local organisation providing full training in aircraft maintenance, which is recognised by the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department (HKCAD).
Trainee schemes in place include the aircraft maintenance craftsmen trainee scheme
(AMCT); aircraft engineering technician trainee scheme; and aircraft engineering license trainee, or graduate license trainee (GLT) programme.
Basic academic requirements for enrolment range from a Form Five qualification for AMCT, to a university degree in engineering for GLT. The company looks for responsible candidates who are enthusiastic about the aviation industry and highly aware of safety and quality.
Training programmes comprise classroom learning for aviation knowledge and on-the-job training to acquire practical experience. Before joining Haeco in 2008, base maintenance craftsman Chan Kei-tze attended the month-long youth pre-employment training programme, jointly offered by the Labour Department and Haeco.
"We acquired in-depth, professional knowledge of aircraft and occupational safety," he says, adding that there was a strong emphasis on improving English language skills, as the maintenance manuals are all in English.
"Under the guidance of our trainers, we spent some time as observers at the hangars to familiarise ourselves with the facilities." Chan will enrol in a part-time higher diploma course in aircraft maintenance engineering, taught by the Institute of Vocational Education in tandem with Haeco.
Ng says Haeco believes in promotion from within.
"Most management positions in our aircraft maintenance-related departments are held by individuals who started their careers in the company as trainees."
Ernest Lau Ka-ming, an aircraft engineer for line maintenance, has advanced up the career ladder through diligence and perseverance.
He leads a six-member team to perform transit checks on planes at the airport. "I derive the most satisfaction when my team develops solutions for difficult repairs," he says.
Lau joined Haeco as an aircraft license trainee after earning a degree in mechatronics engineering in Australia in 1998. He had undergone three years of training before becoming a mechanic in 2001. He then qualified as a licensed technician. After passing internal exams, he became an engineer in 2007.
"I want to pass more exams for specific aircraft types, so that I am qualified to sign airworthiness confirmation documents for a broader range of aircraft," Lau says.
Haeco collaborates with educational institutions and government departments in training in order to encourage more locals to enter the industry
At Haeco, a clearly defined career path is designed for employees
Employees who have received training in maintenance can opt to move laterally to other aircraft-related supporting divisions