MT Opportunities

Setting the world stage for young talent

by Grace Chan

Hong Kong Trade Development Council executive trainee programme rigorous but popular among aspiring graduates

In pursuit of diverse learning opportunities and invaluable exposure entailed by a career in international trade, more than 3,000 young graduates applied this year to join the executive trainee programme offered by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC).

Seen as an investment in the future, the HKTDC launched the inaugural three-year programme in 1997. "Our distinctive role as a trade catalyst requires us to groom our own leaders with the attributes, abilities and professional qualities needed to further our goals," says Helen Au, the HKTDC's human resources manager.

This year, the HKTDC handpicked seven trainees from diverse academic backgrounds. Next year there will be around 10, says Ms Au. She notes that the organisation favours talented young individuals who enjoy a challenge and interaction with people.

"While an outgoing personality and excellent interpersonal skills are essential, we also look for creativity, adaptability and business acumen," she adds. "An adventurous character could be an advantage."

With the global business focus shifting to emerging markets, the HKTDC is exploring the potential in different regions in mainland China, Russia and India. Staff may be required to travel to different areas to explore business opportunities and organise marketing and business events.

Industry insights

The HKTDC exposes trainees to a wide range of industries, from the luxury watch sector to film and cosmetics, by involving them in meetings with local and overseas trade partners. "This helps to enhance their competencies such as project management and communication," says Ms Au. "Skills that are acquired through on-the-job training and other training and development sessions will be applicable to a cross section of industries."

Trainees are expected to get their hands dirty from day one, taking on leadership roles on "real" projects. Division managers and supervisors act as mentors and coaches to guide them towards their goals.

"Work experience can be measured through quantitative targets, but we place more emphasis on trainees' learning outcomes for areas such as customer service and management," Ms Au notes.

The core feature of the programme is a job rotation schedule that allows trainees to go through at least three key attachments. While working in the organisation's product promotion department, for example, trainees can assist with planning and coordination of road shows and trade exhibitions. Then during a stint at the service promotion department, they may be involved with seminars and business delegations.

Trainees also enjoy the opportunities for overseas secondments, as well as assignments in regions outside Hong Kong once they have completed the programme. Foreign language training is therefore another distinctive part of the executive trainee programme.

"We don't offer fast-track careers with quick promotion opportunities as our counterparts in the private sector do," stresses Ms Au. "However, some of our previous executive trainees now hold managerial positions. We're confident that our clear career development path will continue to attract quality talent and contribute to the talent development needs of Hong Kong."

Rich experience

Gary Wong (left)
Qualification: Business and administration
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Year joined: 2008

"I gained a lot of experience in the production promotion department over the past year, and I particularly enjoyed interacting with people from different industries and travelling to cities such as Tokyo, Guangzhou and Wuhan," says Gary Wong.

Mr Wong's first attachment immersed him in the fast-paced electronics and auto-parts sector. He learnt a great deal about promotion, marketing and production while arranging for Hong Kong delegations to attend overseas trade fairs and business meetings. "I found it very satisfying to see our delegations strike successful business deals," he adds.

In May 2009, Mr Wong was offered a valuable learning opportunity when he was assigned to work on the HKTDC Style Hong Kong Show in Wuhan. "It was a big challenge. I coordinated with a production house to arrange the programme and regulate traffic flow. The experience helped me to improve my negotiation and communication skills," he notes.

Mr Wong's career goal is to serve the long-term development of Hong Kong, rather than focus on monetary rewards. "Over the next two years, I will rotate through different departments, widening my horizons. I look forward to this."

Global perspective

Kelly Ma
Assistant manager, service promotion department
Qualification: Marketing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Year joined: 2001

On-the-job training plus hands-on experience in exhibitions and at the HKTDC product promotion department have equipped Kelly Ma with a wealth of project management skills. Ms Ma's experiences culminated in an opportunity to leverage off her expertise for an overseas assignment in Los Angeles from 2006 to 2008.

"My confidence has grown so much over the years," emphasises Ms Ma. "It was a desire to help promote and develop Hong Kong trade that prompted me to sign on with the council."

She recalls that the Basel Fair in 2003 challenged her level of adaptability and negotiation skills. This however, reinforced the importance she attached to the job. "We put in a great deal of effort into encouraging Hong Kong companies to participate in event and getting a premium position for the Hong Kong pavilion. But, we were not allowed to attend the fair due to the SARS outbreak."

Despite that disappointment, her team worked even harder on the event the following year and achieved excellent results. "This is where my job satisfaction comes from," she notes.

Ms Ma believes that team players with a passion for challenge will excel in the job. "Overcoming obstacles has always been part of the business process. This experience provides a steep learning curve."

Taken from Career Times 18 December 2009, p. A16

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