Vickie Chow's career journey has taken an interesting and mind-expanding turn over the past decade, considering that she has a university degree in chemistry.
At the time of graduating in 1998, the education sector was the furthest thing from her mind, but these days Ms Chow is the senior centre director of the English-language teaching organisation Wall Street Institute (WSI) Hong Kong.
She initially kicked off her career with an event and public relations agency. At the time, WSI, one of the city's largest and most respected English-learning institutions nowadays, was just about to set up an office in Hong Kong and was one of her clients.
When a marketing position opened up within WSI Hong Kong, Ms Chow went for it, taking her career in a new direction.
Hard work and dedication paid off and Ms Chow was promoted to WSI marketing manager, before taking a year off. By then, her passion for the education sector had been ignited, and she returned to the institute in 2005.
Again, there was a change in store for her — instead of rejoining the marketing team, she opted for an education consultant position.
"I wanted to take a frontline role so that I could get a thorough understanding of students' needs and learning objectives. I felt that this was the only way that I could provide the solutions to help them reach their goals. The frontline experience has helped with my career development in the industry," she explains.
Ms Chow believes that proficiency in English is essential for career success in an international market like Hong Kong.
WSI's philosophy is that every student, regardless of age and educational background, has unique learning needs. "As education consultants, we provide students with personalised attention to ensure their learning objectives are met," she stresses.
The first step to achieve this is through a test to assess students' proficiency in English. Education consultants then assign students to the appropriate class. In addition to classroom learning, WSI also offers regular social activities and complementary lessons to provide an English-speaking environment where students can nurture and improve their conversational and communication skills.
"A lack of confidence is often the key barrier"
In her previous role as an education consultant, one of Ms Chow's most important briefs was to understand the obstacles facing students in the learning process. "For most students, a lack of confidence is often the key barrier to mastering a language," she says, adding that time is also a concern for working adults.
To meet optimal learning objectives, education consultants conduct follow-up meetings with individual students to assess their progress and identify learning gaps. "Such meetings are particularly important for adults who tend to need an extra dose of motivation and support," she notes.
In her current position as centre director, Ms Chow oversees the entire centre operation, from student enrolment to teaching quality, staff management and overall course development strategies. She derives her greatest job satisfaction from hearing students speak English fluently and confidently.
With Mandarin emerging as a more prominent language in Hong Kong, the role of English as an international language has not diminished, says Ms Chow. She points out however that there has been a change in the type of courses that are in demand.
"We're seeing an increased need for courses that apply practically in different industries and working environments," she explains.
Employers increasingly require staff to master the language beyond basic functions such as email correspondence and telephone conversations.
"Many companies now expect their employees to give presentations and handle business networking effectively in English," she adds. "We anticipate that greater English language requirements in the workplace will create an increasing demand for English learning. This will lead to more opportunities for young people interested in developing careers in the education consultancy profession."
A university degree is a prerequisite for the job. Candidates are also expected to possess good English language skills, while some work experience is a plus. Since a consultant needs to interact with students and parents from a range of backgrounds, the role also requires a people-oriented personality, Ms Chow notes.
"Education consultants help students reach their learning objectives so they need to have a real sense of responsibility, be committed and enjoy helping people," she concludes.