Now more knowledge intensive and respected as a profession, the textiles and apparel industry is demanding the attention of talented youngsters looking for a dynamic career.
Across the industry, the demand for qualified merchandising professionals has grown tremendously in recent years as technological advancement has boosted the quality of textile products. "Today we're talking about microfibres and nano technology. Merchandisers need to catch up with the pace," notes William Fung, group managing director, Li & Fung (Trading) Limited.
Dr Fung was guest of honour at the recent awards ceremony for graduates receiving a professional and continuing education (PCE) diploma in merchandising. Co-hosted by Li & Fung (Trading) Limited, a leading global supply chain management company, and the School of Professional Education and Executive Development (SPEED) at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). The ceremony celebrated 20 months of hard work on the part of the graduates.
Launched in February 2006, the PCE diploma in merchandising programme equipped students with the latest merchandising techniques, professional knowledge and industry know-how. The student profile comprised fresh Li & Fung employees, nominees from merchandising companies or aspirants who applied for the merchandising programme directly. Throughout the programme, they were given the opportunities to visit factories and gain valuable hands-on experience.
"The programme combines practical and theoretical approaches and nurtures quality merchandising professionals ready for textile and clothing companies. Graduates from the programme are able to apply both their theoretical and experiential learning to their professional endeavours," says Peter Yuen, dean of the College of Professional and Continuing Education (CPCE), an affiliate of PolyU.
"Nowadays young people are more enthusiastic about factory visits because they realise that the whole process of production is now changing and involves sales and marketing, merchandising, IT and technical production. These new sectors are also attracting highly qualified and energetic merchandising professionals to the larger manufacturing and merchandising industry," Dr Fung reveals.
Comprising subjects such as material sourcing, sample submission, shipping and product development, which cover the entire merchandising workflow, the intensive programme hones theoretical skills linked to basic manufacturing processes and merchandising techniques. IT proficiency is also improved throughout the programme. Students visit an assigned number of factories to apply skills learnt in the programme to actual professional scenarios. They profit from substantial hands-on experience and learn to promote cooperative harmony in professional settings.
The programme is in essence a fast track to professionalism. "The world transforms rapidly. To keep pace with change, our faculty at PolyU conducts research studies and imparts findings to students. We also assign complex projects to them to encourage integration and application of both knowledge and techniques," Professor Yuen remarks.
Students also acquire professional qualifications under the government's qualifications framework. "The programme incorporates courses classified into different qualification levels within these frameworks. Under the university's credit accumulation mechanism, students can accumulate credits gained in this diploma for prospective bachelor's degrees and even a master's degree in future," he adds.
At Li & Fung, staff development has always been a priority. "To maximise the potential of dynamic candidates, training opportunities are essential. We have partnered with PolyU to shorten the whole learning process and offer candidates professional qualifications. This aligns with our aim to strengthen each individual's market competitiveness in the long term," Dr Fung stresses. "The velocity of business growth currently outpaces the talent supply in the market. We must encourage young people to enter this business. One way of doing so is to offer them comprehensive training. We are happy to co-operate with PolyU to provide the practical component of the programme for future development."
A global network of 80 offices in 40 countries, Li & Fung employs more than 2,500 staff in Hong Kong alone and 13,000 more worldwide. These positions are typically white collar, technical posts, which are all highly valued and knowledge-based jobs.
Technological advancement is exciting and governments around the world are looking at the textile and garment industry. "We're currently playing a value-adding intermediary role which can be stimulating for young people in Hong Kong," Dr Fung concludes.