Preserving knowledge and passing on experience

Engineer Wong Ngan-fung has been working at Hactl for 31 years. Nicknamed “Fung”, he is a serious man and an experienced team member who has spent many years working with his colleagues looking after Hactl’s famous Cargo Handling System — an 11-storey, fully- automated, 24/7 system that carries thousands of tonnes of cargo daily, from all over the world to Hong Kong and then to its final destination.

“When I first came to Chek Lap Kok airport, it was still a flat piece of land, and I witnessed the system rise from the ground,” he says. Fung recalls how, over the years, he has been responsible for repairing various breakdowns, as well as participating in many system optimisation projects; so he is familiar with every component of the giant machinery.

Soon, he will retire. He is reluctant to do so, and is worried about how to pass on his experience. Hactl has been in Hong Kong for 46 years, and with experienced employees like him in various roles, it is important for the company to collect and pass on their knowledge and experience as they gradually retire. There may be standard operating manuals covering every system and piece of equipment, as well as comprehensive training, but the decades of experience acquired by staff like Fung are invaluable, and not so easy to document.

How can all this precious intelligence be passed on to younger colleagues? Hactl has decided that the answer is to stage a Knowledge Management Initiative to systematically identify, collect, collate and filter the critical knowledge and experience of senior staff, and store it on a web-based platform using the latest technology. Such a systematic Knowledge Management (KM) Initiative is an innovative move in the air cargo industry in Hong Kong, and probably worldwide – but then Hactl has always been pioneering and proactive in investing in resources, and these latest KM activities will determine the best way to preserve and convey the precious knowhow of its senior staff.

The young assist the process

The first pilot department for the KM Initiative is the Engineering and Facilities Services Department, where Fung works. To pass on the experience, it is necessary first to understand what younger team mates need.

Chak Kwok-wang (Timothy) joined Hactl two and a half years ago, after graduating from university with a degree in Mechanical Engineering; he is now an engineer in the Engineering and Facilities Services Department. “The Cargo Handling System at Hactl is a unique system and you have to learn from scratch how each piece of equipment functions,” says Timothy. “Some of the maintenance knowledge has actually been accumulated by senior staff in the field over time, and they may be very experienced in fixing a particular problem, but they may not know how to explain and articulate it right away.”

Timothy has made the effort to learn from his seniors at the terminal but, with decades of experience under their belts, how can the seniors possibly deliver so much information and knowhow all in one go?

The engineering team at the terminal has to perform different maintenance and repair work every day. In order to maintain the efficient operation of the terminal and the quality of the cargo service, the terminal must run smoothly 24 hours a day. Whenever a fault is found in the system, the senior staff have to fix it urgently, and do not always have the luxury of explaining every step to their young colleagues.

How can the knowledge of our experienced staff be preserved, and be made more accessible to younger and newer colleagues? The KM Core Team has come up with the novel idea of making a series of clear, one-minute videos showing the solutions to the problems that the senior staff have devised.

Preserving precious knowhow using today’s technology

The KM Core Team started interviewing seniors such as Fung, and studying the problems that the engineering team had encountered, then handed over to younger members such as Timothy, to transform this knowledge into videos using the latest media technology.

This innovative approach is new and interesting for Fung: “Nowadays, young people tend to use less text and words and more pictures. Hence, it’s a good idea to make a short film that better suits their habits.”

However, both Fung and Timothy recall that it was not easy at the beginning: the seniors were not totally clear about what the juniors needed to know, while the junior colleagues sometimes found it hard to understand. “It’s like a secondary school teacher who knows all the maths problems, but whose students may not even know the basics of 1+1=2; therefore, the teacher has to start from the beginning,” Timothy laughs.

Communication has improved over time and the culture is slowly changing. It is also a continuous process of knowledge mining — the teachers are growing to realise that they need to introduce all the knowledge clearly, piece by piece; and the young staff are becoming more willing to ask and learn.

Already, the KM Initiative has produced close to 20 videos covering the more common failures that can occur in the various cargo storage systems at SuperTerminal 1. The next step is to store the videos on a cloud-based platform so they can be viewed by staff on their tablets, mobile phones and handhelds provided by the company — at any time and from any place.

Mentorship no longer the only way

When Fung first joined the company, he also learned from his mentors and studied the manuals. “You had to take your own time with the manual, and the teacher had a busy job, so you had to take the initiative and ask him before he would teach you,” he recalls.

After working for many years and becoming a senior member of the engineering team, Fung feels his participation in the KM activities has been very beneficial. “Knowledge is evolving and so are the methods of transmission, from the former mentorship, face-to-face classes and practical classes to the current virtual classes and video teaching. The knowledge and experience of our seniors accumulates over time and will be lost if it is not preserved and shared. This project has far-reaching implications for knowledge preservation, management and heritage.”

After decades of working at the terminal, providing excellent engineering support for the relentless process of handling and storing shipments, Fung has now taken the time to work with the younger staff and capture his invaluable knowledge and experience. The next stage for the KM Core Team is to extend their work to other departments, with the aim that all the wisdom and art of the older generations can be passed on to every young Hactl staffer, and in an innovative and engaging way that is more suited to their ways of learning.