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Clearing for take-off

Published on Saturday, 23 Aug 2014
Haeco aircraft maintenance engineers get hands-on experience of working in a cabin during training.
Photo: SCMP
Shiu Chi-yung

Training is geared to meet demand for qualified engineers, writes Chris Davis.

With employers in  many industries  looking to recruit engineers, both fresh graduates and experienced professionals   have a promising future in many disciplines,  including building, electrical, mechanical and aviation.
According to recruitment firm Hays, there are several  engineering employment hotspots. For example, a strong focus on green-building design is creating demand for structural and environmental engineers.
 At the same time, projects that range from old and new buildings to MTR stations have highlighted a shortage of building services engineers to work on installation, repairs and maintenance projects.
The aviation industry is one area where demand for qualified professionals, especially engineers specialising in aircraft maintenance, is outstripping supply. 
The Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co (Haeco) handles more than 110,000 flights each year and offers round-the-clock support to more than 100 airline customers. It has a continuous requirement for aircraft engineers and is the only Hong Kong company providing full training in aircraft maintenance that is recognised by the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department.

Keeping aircraft operating efficiently and safely requires exceptional engineering skills, says Dr WN Chung, Haeco’s head of technical training. “Whether it’s diagnosing and repairing a plane in between flights or working on a major overhaul, maintenance work must always be of the highest standard,” he says.

Just as pilots need to be licensed to fly an aircraft, engineers are trained to high standards and licensed to ensure they have the competencies to certify aircraft are working correctly and meet stringent regulatory and safety requirements. 

Depending on their experience and training, Haeco engineers work on line maintenance, which involves checks and repairs on aircraft while they transit through the airport. They also conduct scheduled, detailed maintenance checks, referred to in the industry as base maintenance. Engineers also work on modifications and aircraft overhaul.

To meet its engineering staffing requirements, HAECO offers a choice of training programmes geared to candidates’ academic background and career aspirations. At the basic entry level, the one-year aircraft maintenance craftsman trainee (AMCT) programme is aimed at high school graduates who have completed their Form Five examinations. Similarly, the aircraft maintenance mechanic trainee (AMMT) programme provides a mixture of on-the-job training and academic training in local education institutions to help participants achieve higher qualifications. 

“We stress to all our engineering recruits that we provide the platform for learning and training and it is up to them how far they would like to take their career,” Chung says. “We look for people who show commitment, a passion for what they do, and a safety and quality mindset.”

The Haeco aircraft engineering license trainee  scheme, consisting of over 3,000 hours of classroom learning and practical training, is aimed at candidates with a higher diploma or suitable degree qualification.

 As a newly qualified licensed aircraft engineers, individuals undergo further training on specific types of aircraft to gain their “type rating”, which allows them to undertake additional responsibilities. The training process includes an extensive introduction, job rotation, on-the-job training and assessment and exam preparation. “We look for people who show commitment, a passion for what they do and a safety and quality mindset.”

Despite recruiting hundreds of candidates each year, the rapid growth of the aeronautical maintenance sector in Hong Kong has seen demand for qualified professionals specialising in aircraft maintenance outstripping supply. HACEO said in a statement last year that the labour shortage was affecting its ability to meet demand for its services. 

In a drive to encourage new talent to join the industry, HAECO has teamed with education facilities to launch activities on campuses that give students greater access to learning about aircraft engineering and the aviation industry. 

Meanwhile, Shiu Chi-yung, deputy academic director of the engineering discipline at the Institute of Vocational Education (IVE), says Hong Kong’s major infrastructure projects  are also creating new opportunities for engineers. “Even when these projects are completed, they will still need to be operated and maintained, creating ongoing and new opportunities for engineers,” he says.

Shiu adds that IVE’s close association with different industries translates into students receiving training that is relevant and timely. “Our programmes include many practical elements  directly linked to employer requirements,” he says.

Entry requirements for IVE higher diploma engineering programmes require five Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) subjects at level two or above, including Chinese, English and maths. Students applying for the IVE aircraft maintenance engineering diploma programmes also need to hold a level two HKDSE physics qualification.

A core feature of IVE engineering programmes is internship opportunities during the final semester, Shiu says. “Mandatory internships provide students with invaluable experience, because in many cases this will be the first time they will have faced the reality of the workplace. 

“Not only do internships allow students to gain a feel for the workplace environment, they also allow perspective employers to evaluate students and see if they would like to offer them full-time employment.” 

  Hong Kong’s major infrastructure projects are also creating new opportunities for engineers. “Even when these projects are completed, they will still need to be operated and maintained creating ongoing and new opportunities for engineers.”

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