Shipping in the modern times

by Ada Poon

Theresa Lai
general manager — human resources
Modern Terminals Limited
Photo: Nolly Leung

Cross-boundary communication skills are valued in cargo and container business

Much has been said about Hong Kong's role as an international shipping centre in recent times and while it has lost its status as the world's busiest port, there is no doubt that as part of the greater Pearl River Delta region the container and cargo business will thrive in the coming years.

To support the continuous growth of Hong Kong's original economic pillar, talented professionals are and will continue to be highly sought after.

Reflecting the growing needs of China's trade, Modern Terminals Limited is seeking to make significant terminal developments on the mainland, building on their existing operations in Hong Kong and Taicang as well as their imminent operation in Da Chan Bay. With 1,200 personnel in Hong Kong, the company primarily consists of four divisions, namely operations, engineering and planning, information technology and commercial. Staff take three shifts a day to support the 24-hour operation.

The company is aiming to double its 2005 throughput and value by 2010; and to further expand its presence in the Pearl and Yangtze River Deltas as well as key growth regions in China by 2015. In line with its business development plan, people training and staff retention are crucial to the company's long-term goals.

Enhanced communication

Theresa Lai, general manager — human resources, Modern Terminals Limited says that cross-boundary skills exchange is one of the highlights of the company's training programmes. "We work closely with our colleagues on the mainland. Some of our Hong Kong staff go over to facilitate development and support the establishment of the company's projects in China. Not only do they provide on-the-ground support, they also bring invaluable skills, experience and knowledge to the local offices."

For one of its people development initiatives, skill communities are set up to provide a platform to enable the exchange of ideas and experience among staff who work in the same job functions. "Take human resources as an example," Ms Lai says, "we will meet with the HR teams in China to discuss the new developments and how our programmes can contribute to the company as a whole."

Learning culture

The company organises a wide variety of internal training to develop staff capabilities. This includes technical skills training, such as operating specialised container handling equipment; language skills training in English and Putonghua; generic skills training such as supervisory skills, tool box training, presentation skills and project management; management skills training and leadership development programme; and culture related training like "leadership impact and lifestyle inventory surveys and debriefings", and "journey to excellence and investment in excellence".

All employees are entitled to enrol in in-house training and trainers are arranged from a blend of sources including HR staff, line trainers, skilled community members and external service providers. When the required training is not available internally, a company training subsidy is offered to those taking external programmes.

To ensure training is relevant, timely and in line with the company's direction, training programmes are reviewed in the beginning of each calendar year, taking into reference both the business plan and the annual performance appraisal information. "We also flexibly respond to ongoing and ad hoc requests from different departments if they see the need for specific training," Ms Lai says.

A recent programme on project management skill training helped participants handle cross-function projects and sharpen their competence in developing work plans and measuring performance.

A new cultural initiative was implemented to encourage staff to think out of the box and inject innovation into the work environment. The "small changes great improvements" award scheme encouraged development and implementation of new ideas, and one of the award winning entries last year was about how to enhance the safety of naval personnel as they board and land.

To further drive success, the company also invests in team building programmes that strengthen team spirit and collaboration among colleagues. Ms Lai believes that this provides a precious opportunity to build team synergy and enable better understanding and communication between people.

To help identify and attract talented young people to the company, Modern Terminals started an annual internship programme a few years ago. It provides nine to twelve months of work experience for undergraduate students from local universities and in the past some interns have been recruited as fulltime staff members after the programme has ended.

Ms Lai says the company recognises the importance of long-term career prospects. "Our policy is to promote from within as much as possible. We also provide internal transfer opportunities to enable our staff to gain more exposure and knowledge." She says Modern Terminals' competitive compensation and benefits packages, caring culture, and development opportunities are other significant factors in attracting and retaining talented people and the company maintains a low turnover rate of around two per cent per year.

"We are committed to enhance employee engagement and help our people grow, excel and succeed," Ms Lai concludes.


Taken from Career Times 13 July 2007
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