Universities are now putting greater emphasis on providing practical experience for students and the arrangement of internships is becoming a common practice. These allow exposure to an actual work environment and enable familiarisation with the skills and attitudes of the modern workplace.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) refers to students who receive such training as "preferred graduates" since they are more likely to find full-time employment in their chosen fields immediately after completing their studies. According to Tina Lau, counselling specialist for PolyU, a survey carried out by the university's Student Affairs Office showed that about 17 percent of employers interviewed said they would make job offers to students who had been placed with their companies and 49 percent would give them priority.
Fairy Wang, who had a two-month placement with a construction company in Switzerland last summer, confirms that the programme offers invaluable on-the-job training. As an engineering student, she had the opportunity to take part in building the world's longest railway tunnel. "There was so much to learn and I was able to use the most advanced equipment when doing fieldwork," says Ms Wang. The experience made her realise that academic training is only one side of the story and that real-life exposure is essential.
In addition, she really appreciated the attitude of her colleagues. "They were friendly and helpful. Despite the tight schedule, they always remained patient and explained the details of the project to me." She adds that she will make teamwork and cooperation an area to focus on in her future career.
The PolyU programme not only provides obvious benefits for students, but also helps partner companies to save resources on recruitment and become better known among potential candidates, says Ms Lau. She explains that it makes possible closer collaboration between the university and industry so that a generally better level of understanding can be achieved.
Originally launched in 1997, the programme now has over 760 partner companies and supporting organisations. About 90 percent of the placements are arranged in summer and most last from four to twelve weeks. So far 4,900 students have benefited.
Unlike other placement schemes run by individual departments at local universities, PolyU's programme is centralised for all departments and is therefore run on a larger scale, says Ms Lau. It has earned a good reputation in the business community and continuous improvements have seen placements extended to mainland cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Shenzhen, and to overseas locations.
The number of placements on the mainland continues to grow and accounted for 42.5 percent of last year's total.
At present, the programme is open to all non-final year students and, while the university will match suitable applicants with the requirements of partner companies, it leaves employers to contact and finalise details with individual students. As preparation, though, PolyU provides not less than ten hours of specialised training. "It helps self-understanding, gives students a brief idea of the business world, and teaches some practical skills, such as interview techniques and attitudes to work," says Ms Lau.
To ensure quality, comments are collected from employers about the programme and the performance of participants after each placement. Student feedback is also reviewed in detail in order to find areas for improvement.