In today's fast-moving knowledge economy, the opportunities available for people without a tertiary-level education are becoming more limited. And for mature jobseekers, having no degree greatly reduces the chances of landing a challenging position, never mind one that will lead to significant career progress. Some employers, though, are determined to help.
"We are focused on bringing new blood into the industry and feel there is an untapped pool of resources," says Michael Cowell, managing director at Teledirect Hong Kong Limited, a regional telecommerce service provider. Therefore, when hiring, the company looks firstly for people with the right attitude and a desire to continue learning, and only later reviews their educational background.
A growing segment of the business involves the handling of outsourced sales of various insurance products through the call centres and, previously, relevant experience was one of the key recruitment criteria. That approach has now changed in order to attract a wider range of candidates.
"We no longer expect a background in insurance or a degree," says Mr Cowell.
"All we require is a Form five education and the right attitude. The company will provide the necessary training to prepare recruits for success."
Training for new recruits begins with a week of courses in the soft and hard skills needed to be a sales agent in the insurance field. It then prepares them to sit the exams necessary to obtain their professional qualifications. In this area, the company has so far achieved a pass rate of over 90 per cent, thus opening up better career prospects for the staff involved.
All we require is a Form five education and the right attitude
"A lot of people in Hong Kong without a higher education are probably working in jobs that don't pay what we can potentially offer," says Mr Cowell. "We pay good basic salaries and, with commission and bonuses, high performers can earn from HK$20,000 to HK$25,000 a month."
The company also offers a clear career path. It leads from being an agent in the call centre to team leader, supervisor and project manager. Individuals with specific skills may also get the opportunity to transfer and work for one of Teledirect's local or international clients. In this way, they can gain broader corporate experience and develop their careers. "We want to offer that chance and see people improve their income levels," says Mr Cowell.
There is ongoing training as staff progress, including external job-related programmes. The company will subsidise these as a form of motivation and reward.
In a sector known for high staff turnover, Teledirect's focus on HR and training has had a noticeable impact. "Our retention of agents has really improved over the past five years, which has had knock-on benefits for overall company performance," Mr Cowell explains.
He adds that it has also been a deliberate policy to focus more on staff activities to improve the work environment and the general work-life balance. "We try to make it a fun place to work by making the environment as pleasant as possible and by organising extra activities to keep things interesting," Mr Cowell says. "Our staff committee organises barbeques, dinners, karaoke nights and sports events."
In addition, last year the company decided to introduce the idea of a "charity month" and assisted ORBIS by taking donation calls during a television infomercial. This year, staff have decided to support the Hong Kong Children's Cancer Foundation, and the company is making a cash donation to the charity for every sale made by agents.
"If the company ends up donating a lot of money, we will be more than happy about that, because it will show the activity has brought a new kind of motivation," says Mr Cowell. "We are trying to demonstrate to staff that they can make a difference in the world. Often, we are kept busy simply managing our lives and sometimes forget about people less fortunate than ourselves. These activities are just using our natural skills and ability to help."