Making the transition from study to employment requires more than a clutch of excellent grades. In addition to picking the right career, fresh graduates need to develop a slew of practical skills, ranging from crisis management to relationship-building. Before you jump in at the deep end, joining an internship programme provides both training and a taste of the real world.
A third-year fashion and textiles student at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a first-time intern in search of summer work experience, Wilson Wong was pleased to be accepted by a sourcing company for the 150-year old clothing giant Levi Strauss & Co in Hong Kong. "At first, I didn't apply because I didn't think I'd get in. Levi's is a big company. [I thought] the competition must be fierce," says Mr Wong.
During his eight-week internship, he observed how sample evaluation was carried out, participated in pre-production meetings and made a few field trips to factories in mainland China. "It was a real experience. We went to Dongguan, Zhuhai, Weizhou and Shenzhen. I got to see the workers and how they work and communicate. It's a different style, totally," he enthuses.
As an inexperienced student, the internship was clearly a challenge. At the beginning, his supervisor commented that he was not being sufficiently proactive. Admitting that it is not in his personality to be aggressive, Mr Wong says that, through the process, he has learnt to make better use of his initiative.
This positive experience has much to do with his supervisor, Samuel Pang, whom Mr Wong describes as a good and very friendly coach. "He gave me regular feedback and took good care of me in China. Through him, I learnt how to communicate with factory workers and to be patient about their different working style and occasional lack of efficiency. Mr Pang said that a good relationship with them was crucial," he notes.
A technical services engineer, Mr Pang says that Mr Wong was their sixth intern in three years. One intern is now a member of the company's sales and marketing team.
As far as his company is concerned, internship is a form of reality check. "We need to get in touch with the young people out there who might be our future employees," he says.
"Society is changing every day. Internship helps bring industry new blood. This kind of programme is good and relevant to society, since we need employees and students need jobs."
Although having an intern is costly in terms of manpower, Mr Pang thinks that it offers both student and company a worthwhile experience. He was satisfied with Mr Wong's performance and impressed by his lively presentations and positive attitude. Indeed, he has adopted his suggestions on operation flow for their new office in Dongguan.
Mr Pang also has some advice for interns. "Be proactive and enjoy the experience, even though it is a short period of time. It may be hard, but it will be worthwhile training and prepare you for crisis management in the real world."
Through internship, Mr Wong has certainly seen the reality of working for a company and doing business in mainland China and believes he has gained from the experience. "You can't have the attitude that you are leading [mainland workers]. You should co-operate with them," he says. "Besides, they are willing to learn from you. I believe in a learning attitude. If you're willing to learn, no experience is a bad experience."