Graduates / Trainees

New growth in evergreen industry

by Mary Luk

Alsia Tang (front row, right), human resources manager, and Jeannie Lee (front row, left), trainee, with some of Fountain Set's 2004 recruits

The limited supply of young managerial talent in the textile business prompted one company to set up a graduate trainee programme in order to be ready for further expansion

For any company to stay at the forefront of the textile industry, it is essential to combine the traditional virtues of hard work, quality and reliability with the integration of the very latest technology throughout the design and manufacturing process. That is easier said than done. As computerisation of the textile and garment sector has advanced, it has brought change at a rate seen never before. At the same time, since trade barriers will be lowered in 2005 and competition will intensify, efforts will have to be redoubled to maintain Hong Kong's position as an industry leader. Personnel with the very latest skills will be in great demand and, consequently, the need for up-to-date training of new talent has never been greater.

One exporter which has already taken practical steps in this direction is Fountain Set (Holdings) Limited. Long renowned for the production of knitted fabrics, the group is running a graduate recruitment programme as part of a plan to cope with the expansion they expect to achieve in the coming decade. Headquartered in Hong Kong for the last 35 years, the group now has 15 plants - 2 in China, two in Indonesia and one in Sri Lanka and eight overseas representative offices, with a total workforce of over 21,500, but they do not intend to stop there.

"The textile industry is evergreen yet ever-changing," says Alsia Tang, human resources manager for Fountain Set. "Since clothing remains an important part of our daily lives, we still see great opportunities for market development. To meet the demand of discriminating customers, we have, therefore, invested heavily in new lab equipment and installed new state-of-the-art machines in our mills."

Taking action

While courses offered locally by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University train candidates suitable for the textile industry, there are, according to Ms Tang, never enough to satisfy market demand. As a result, the group has found it necessary to organise its own training programmes with the aim of developing a reservoir of new talent.

This began with an intake of university graduates in 1999 and, so far, 79 recruits have completed the programme. As one measure of success, the majority is still with the group. "Each year, our target is to recruit about 30 trainees from the several hundred applications we receive," notes Ms Tang. "The programme is officially launched in May, but each department starts reviewing its manpower needs as early as December to work out the number of recruits required and to plan their career paths."

Career talks are held at universities during March and April to introduce the types of job available. These include positions in everything from sales and merchandising, accounting and logistics to industrial engineering, production management and quality control.

As part of the recruitment process, short-listed candidates are assessed for their acumen and maturity, and department heads look to judge, in particular, if applicants would be suitable for a target position. Group discussions are also conducted to test candidates' communication skills and personalities before one-to-one interviews determine the final selection.

Learning process

After joining, the first step for new trainees is a two-week spell in Dongguan, to visit manufacturing plants and learn about operations and the production process. On-the-job experience then follows with the full training programme lasting between 12 and 18 months, depending on the tasks assigned. Each trainee's performance is monitored on a monthly basis by an individual coach and a full evaluation of progress is made every six months.

"As from this year, after the two-week induction training, trainees will start working straightaway with a designated department in line with their preferences and strengths identified in the interviews," says Ms Tang. "This will help them to become productive in a very short period of time. We will develop tailor-made training programmes for each person after evaluating their precise skills and abilities."

Jeannie Lee, who graduated just this year from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, is one of 24 current trainees. "I found the job interview very comprehensive, which helped me identify what I was most interested in," she says. "As someone new to textile manufacturing, the 14-day visit to the mills in Dongguan opened my eyes to what the industry is all about and I also learned how important it is to work as a team."

As her training progresses, Ms Lee will get the chance to deal with more senior management and pick up general business experience to go with her industry-specific knowledge. "This is definitely a business which has an international outlook and is full of opportunities," she enthuses. "I am learning many practical skills and would recommend Fountain Set to any other young graduate."

Step by step prgoress

  • Individual departments review future manpower needs
    Career talks at universities followed by the interview and selection process
  • Tailor-made training programmes for recruits combined with on-the-job experience
  • Individual coaching and regular evaluations

Taken from Career Times 16 July 2004
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