Few would argue that fluency in English is essential for most jobs in Hong Kong, but many people are still wrestling with the language. Clear evidence of this can be seen in the burgeoning number of language institutes and the variety of English courses on offer. Many of these hold out the promise of rapid improvement and therefore have an intrinsic appeal for anyone trying to juggle further studies with the demands of a hectic work schedule.
The mission for Yannie Cheng, senior centre director for Wall Street Institute (WSI), Hong Kong, is to make learning English both easy and enjoyable. She originally joined WSI in 2001 after being referred by a friend, whose experience there was convincing proof of the institute's commitment to education. "I saw that the culture was focused on achievement, so I was happy to become a part of it," Ms Cheng notes.
Her initial experience was as a course consultant and this helped her to form a vision of what would work best for both her colleagues and students. To ensure WSI could provide students with accurate course information and deliver the results they promised, Ms Cheng initiated a round of discussions and formulated a clearer set of guidelines with the service teams and the management. This initiative improved both frontline and administrative operations and her efforts were widely recognised.
In her current position, Ms Cheng still emphasises the need for open communications. Service managers provide reports on operational items and student feedback is closely reviewed. These are seen as essential channels for communication and the information gathered helps in deciding possible changes and future strategies.
We need to have a true sense of responsibility towards our students
Ms Cheng's daily routine also includes monitoring enrolment status and student learning rates. "As a project leader, I aim to make suggestions about how the company can expand and to collaborate closely with different teams," she says. "We share the common goals of offering better services for students and enhancing their level of satisfaction."
As the demand for classes at private institutes rises, there are numerous opportunities for young people who want to work in the sector. Graduates with an outgoing personality and good interpersonal skills could think of joining WSI as consultant assistants, a position entailing administrative duties and after-sales service, before moving up to course consultant.
Those with a degree in education or languages are preferred, while experience of living overseas is seen as an advantage. "We look for candidates who have attained fluency in English and who are university graduates," Ms Cheng explains.
The commitment to helping people make the right educational choices is also an important attribute. In an increasingly competitive market, many private institutes are thought to be focusing more on immediate business opportunities than on strengthening the quality of their courses or their staff. "Promoting language courses is by no means just a sales job," Ms Cheng says. "We need to have a true sense of responsibility towards our students. They are investing valuable time outside work hours on self-improvement."
Ms Cheng's passion for her work has been rewarded by compliments and enthusiastic feedback from students. Their gifts and notes of thanks can be seen around the centre, sharing some of their ups and downs and referring their friends and families to WSI. "The satisfaction I get from that kind of friendship and seeing the improvement of students is more than words can describe," Ms Cheng proudly notes.
For those interested in following in her footsteps, she recommends obtaining a broad perspective on what goes on in the world by paying close attention to the news and participating in voluntary work. Clearly defined goals and a long-term view of what one wants to achieve in a career are also crucial.
"Ask yourself what you could offer the employer and the students as you look for the right institute to join. A successful career can only be sustained by a genuine interest in education, but if you have the desire to make a contribution to the institute and its students, it is a truly rewarding job," she concludes.
According to Ms Cheng, there are 12 WSI centres in Beijing and Shanghai. The majority of positions are filled locally, and there are currently no foreseeable opportunities for professionals from Hong Kong. "There is an adequate supply of native English speakers in China for our teaching positions," she says. "As for course consultants, we look for local people who are familiar with the culture and education system in the mainland."