Every year, thousands of fresh graduates fight for a place on the various management trainee schemes across major industries in Hong Kong. The competition in the hotel industry is particularly keen since such opportunities are offered to only a select few.
Brian Liu, group director of human resources, Regal Hotels International Limited, emphasises the progressive development of the hotel industry while underlining that good management tools are needed to attract the right people.
"A well-structured management trainee programme is one such tool and it is our plan to keep running it," Mr Liu notes.
The management trainee programme at Regal Hotels International Limited provides aspiring candidates a wealth of job prospects, and in turn helps the hotel group locate candidates who have the potential to become tomorrow's management elites.
This year's programme attracted hundreds of applicants from which more than 15 candidates were handpicked. Mr Liu points out that a university degree in hotel management or tourism is preferred, but not essential.
"About 20 per cent of the hotel's management trainees came from other disciplines," says Faustina Chan, an accounting graduate who joined the programme six months ago. "Thanks to the programme, I've gained extensive knowledge in hotel operations, ranging from the back of house to restaurants," she says.
Before gaining admission to the management trainee programme, applicants go through a three-step screening process comprising a written exercise followed by an aptitude test. Successful candidates then join group discussions with several function heads.
In addition to self-introduction and formal discussions, candidates are required to conduct an impromptu talk where they give a brief speech in both English and Cantonese on a random topic, in the process showing their cognitive thinking abilities, general knowledge and presentation skills.
"This part of the process is particularly challenging," says Isabelle Yuen, one of this year's management trainees. Ms Yuen notes that the management trainee programme takes three and a half years to complete. While the bulk of training involves job rotation in designated departments, trainees spend the final year assuming the role of assistant manager in a department or hotel outlet."
What makes the programme particularly attractive is the opportunity to work at eight of the group's hotels, three of which are on the mainland.
"Taking our future expansion into account, exposure in mainland China is definitely on the training schedule," Mr Liu emphasises, adding that management trainees are stationed at one hotel for 99 weeks and rotate between hotels for the remainder of the time.
"I was initially attracted by the group's mainland expansion," says Aggie Wong, who is currently attached to the group sales department after two years of training.
Jessica Ng, a management trainee from the hotel's group marketing department, is heading for Shanghai this month to help prepare for the grand opening of a Regal property in Jinfeng. "Working in China will afford me a different perspective on hotel management and I've already brushed up my Putonghua," she says.
Besides this, special projects are designed to hone business acumen and ideally build up a people network for these managers-to-be.
Jocelyn Yip, a management trainee currently working at the human resources department, highlights an unforgettable training experience.
"Two years ago, I was assigned a special project to review all job descriptions for the group in terms of job responsibilities and requirements. That particular task gave me ample opportunities to acquaint myself with department heads," she recalls.
Mr Liu remarks, "The special project training can strengthen trainees' managerial skills and is an essential learning process for them."
Having worked at hotels in the UK for four years, Jay Kwan returned to Hong Kong in 2005 and joined the management trainee programme. She is now an assistant manager of the hotel's food and beverage department at Regal Riverside Hotel in Shatin. "Only a sizeable hotel can house restaurants of different cuisines and I've learned a lot from the extensive exposure," Ms Kwan says.
Currently a management trainee in the hotel's group operations department, Kathy Yeung sees promising prospects. "Very few local hotel groups offer management trainee programmes. For me, this is a dream job and I'm looking forward to receiving increased responsibilities," Ms Yeung stresses.
According to Mr Liu, it may take an assistant manager grade employee three to five years to become a manager. For example, the rooms and sales departments are relatively larger in terms of internal structure, so it may take longer for managers to progress. In addition to managerial and leadership skills, Mr Liu says maturity is taken into account as well.