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The right stuff

HAECO puts a premium on good staff

In overseeing more than 5,000 employees in roles which range from frontline production and commercial to back-office support and administration, the management team at HAECO (Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company) follows a well-defined set of HR practices and principles.

Doing so makes it possible not only to achieve corporate objectives in areas like recruitment, training and cost efficiency, but also provides a clear framework for career development, communication and effective motivation.

“Our top priority is to ensure we have the right people with the right skills in the right jobs to fulfil the company’s operational needs,” says Vivian Sun, HAECO’s general manager for personnel. “For that, we must provide appropriate training and opportunities, so that staff with different backgrounds and diverse ambitions have a clear progression path and can see that we understand their needs.”

Aircraft engineering and maintenance is a fast-growing industry in Hong Kong, with demand for high-calibre mechanics, technicians and engineers as strong as ever. As a result, HAECO must compete with airlines and other companies with engineering streams to recruit and retain the best people for both skilled and semi-skilled roles.

One aspect to this is to offer remuneration packages which are market-competitive and regularly benchmarked. Equally important, though, is continuous investment in training and development for staff at all levels, and ongoing initiatives to fine-tune programmes to attract new joiners. This has seen, for example, more participation in job fairs, greater emphasis on online recruitment, new employee referral schemes, and closer co-operation with various educational institutes in a bid to find more of the right type of candidates.

“Ours is a specialised industry,” Sun says. “Specific qualifications are required from the regulatory authority to work on an aircraft, and these take time to accumulate. HAECO is the only company in Hong Kong that provides comprehensive training in aircraft maintenance, overhaul and repairs, which explains why we can have difficulty in recruiting experienced technicians with the necessary professional qualifications.”

Typically, new joiners enter either a technical or non-technical stream. The former includes three structured programmes: aircraft maintenance craftsman trainee (AMCT), aircraft engineering technician trainee (AETT) and aircraft engineering licence trainee (AELT). These cater for school-leavers with different academic backgrounds and career aspirations, giving trainees hard skills and sound practical knowledge over the course of one to three years.

For university graduates, HAECO offers the “Scheme A” programme accredited by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). This takes recruits through an induction period, on-the-job training, and a series of job rotations and continuous professional development activities lasting two to three years. Along the way, trainees also receive advice and coaching from mentors, who hold senior positions within the company.

The non-technical stream is equally well-established and designed for graduates interested in functions such as finance. Trainees attend relevant courses organised by the staff-development department and can expect job rotations plus assignments with affiliated companies in Asia-Pacific.

“We invest considerable resources in providing professional training, licensing and examination subsidies for the right candidates,” Sun says. “Therefore, it is important for job seekers to demonstrate their determination to pursue a career in the aircraft-engineering industry.”

In general, applicants should be polite, motivated and have a reasonable standard of English, bearing in mind that HAECO’s customers are international airlines. With an eye to future career development, they should also show teamwork and communication skills, and leadership potential.

This year, recruitment efforts will focus, in particular, on filling AMCT roles. That decision stems from the need to prepare for additional business and the introduction of the latest generation of passenger aircraft on routes serving Hong Kong and other destinations in Asia.

“A year before new aircraft types are expected to require maintenance, we select a group of engineers and training instructors to attend a course with the manufacturer,” Sun says. “Upon completing that, engineers then go through on-the-job training and may also learn about specific airline procedures before actually working on the aircraft.”

The HAECO group has 11 distinct business units, which include airframe maintenance, cabin reconfiguration, freighter conversion, parts manufacturing, and engine overhaul. Each is expected to drive growth in its own right, though staff do co-operate closely with other departments and functional units. This allows them to share ideas and best practices, as well as to enhance productivity and human resources planning.

“We will continue to invest in facility expansion and technical capabilities in Hong Kong and mainland China, in order to increase the range, depth and quality of aircraft-engineering services offered to our customers,” Sun says. “In addition, the technical-training department will keep augmenting the scope of in-house courses and instruction to align with the company’s needs and to sustain business development.”

In carrying out her own role, Sun finds that effective communication is the key, both in maintaining a harmonious relationship with staff and shaping the expectations and outlook of the younger generation.

“Communicating about what to expect from a job at HAECO is becoming increasingly important,” she says. “With that in mind, we have updated our recruitment website to highlight the career-development prospects and promote aircraft engineering as a highly sought-after profession.”