Learning to compete in the real world

by Katie Lau

Jack Lo (far left), director, SPEED, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, with this year's Best Innovation Awards champion team from City University of Hong Kong
Photo: Wallace Chan
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Professional Education and Executive Development (PolyU SPEED) gives associate-degree and higher-diploma students the chance to showcase their competence and creativity via a specially tailored contest.

This year's participants in the Best Innovation Awards (BIA), formerly known as the Business Innovation Awards, found themselves challenged to develop a proposal to enhance the profile of award-winning international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the region.

"We decided to focus on a non-governmental organisations this year, since its operation involves strict management and long-term strategies in areas such as fundraising, communications and logistics," says Jack Lo, director, PolyU SPEED.

This year's competition primarily aimed at giving students real-life work experiences, points out Dr Lo. "We wanted to broaden their horizons by putting them in a non-corporate workplace where they could apply what they'd learnt in the classroom. They had to do a great deal of fieldwork.

"We wanted these students to be practical dreamers who are able to apply their ideas, and we believe the contest can boost their confidence, helping them to excel in their future careers."

Actual work experience is key to developing students' problem-solving skills, an integral part of the education that SPEED aims to provide. "Only through this interactive approach can students truly understand what they've learnt," Dr Lo states.

This year's participating teams had to write innovative proposals to increase support for MSF by individuals and other parties in Hong Kong and Greater China, and to encourage sustained engagement in promoting the organisation's humanitarian causes worldwide.

The gold award went to HACK, a four-strong team from the Community College of City University of Hong Kong (CCCU). The judges praised the team's comprehensive and novel four-event proposal, which involves group buying and a voucher scheme to build MSF's brand and raise its profile, especially among university students.

"We found that MSF was better known among working professionals, the major source of donations to the charity, but we thought it would be good to target younger people as well. The earlier people learn about the organisation and its work, the more likely that they'll remember and support it in future," says HACK team member Hovey Cheng.

Mr Cheng and his team members agree that they learnt the importance of teamwork during the contest, adding that they believe their strong presentation and interpersonal skills helped them win. "The judges were impressed by our self-confidence," says Crystal Chan, with team mate Alan Lin adding that positive body language makes all the difference in the workplace.

Good acumen is also essential, especially in Hong Kong's knowledge-based economy, stresses Dr Lo. Communication and language abilities are equally important, but he is concerned that standards are slipping in these areas among tertiary students in the city. "If students want to stand out, they need to concentrate on improving their verbal and written language skills," he advises.

Considering that about 20,000 business students graduate in Hong Kong every year, associate-degree and higher-diploma holders must be patient and realistic about their prospects in the employment market, says Dr Lo.

"I advise young people not to rush into jobs until they've finished their bachelor's degrees, if their financial circumstances allow. Also, graduates should not set their goals too high when they start working. It's better to get some experience before trying to bargain for a higher salary. It might sound like a cliche, but it's a tough world out there," he concludes.

Taken from Career Times 22 April 2011
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