Many of Hong Kong's top achievers moved into their respective professions after one or two "false starts", and found such early experiences made them all the keener to ensure they got the right job in the right stream and stick to it for the rest of their lives.
A typical example is Ken Lui, catering services manager of Cathay Pacific Catering Services (HK) Ltd (CPCS), who completed his bachelor degree programme in 1995 and spent a couple of months with a company, but decided that he wanted more than a job offering a decent salary and benefits.
"When I decided to join CPCS I was quite certain about where my career would take me," says Mr Lui. "Besides having a good understanding of exactly what I would be doing, I knew the hierarchy of the profession. That's why I chose to restart as a supervisor trainee with CPCS."
In the following two years he was "rotated" through different divisions of the operations department, receiving in-house training as well as on-the-job coaching. Having been equipped with extensive knowledge of the workings of the department when he finished the trainee programme, he was then allocated to the inbound ware-wash section.
Shortly afterwards, he faced the first challenge of his work life. "The opening of the new airport at Chek Lap Kok was only months away, and the head of our section suddenly got sick seriously and needed to stay in hospital," he says. "The preparation work for the migration to the new airport was at a critical stage, but I was promoted to senior supervisor and took over as the section head. Aside from the huge project, I found myself heading a team of more than 200 people plus looking after the day-to-day business of the whole line. The stress was enormous, but the initial CPCS training had armed me with all the necessary skills to overcome problems in any situations."
"Opportunities always come with greater challenges"
Having worked with the company's key persons during the trainee programme, he had learnt the most important functions of the leaders in different teams. He also grasped many golden rules from the people he worked with. "My former team leader had taught me how to strike a balance between fairness and friendship when issues of discipline arose among our colleagues," he recalls. "This advice was one of the most useful tools in managing the team and solving personnel problems."
As a team commander, prioritising is one of Mr Lui's main duties. "From my previous experience, I have a full picture of the logistical processes. It allows me to give direct and clear instructions in response to urgent situations," he notes.
After the company's smooth transition to Chap Lap Kok, Mr Lui focused on improving its inbound ware-wash procedures, including maximising the output of both machines and human resources. In 2003, in recognising his continuous outstanding performance, Mr Lui was assigned to head the outbound section, with the important task of ensuring on-time and accurate meals going on board more than 30 customer airlines.
Kuby Hong, CPCS's personnel and training manager who started up the trainee programme, was impressed by Mr Lui's performance. "From the moment he was inducted into the scheme as a trainee, he showed by his efforts and initiative that he would be fast-tracked to the management position he now holds," she says. "He is a good example of how to get the maximum from the training programme, where you can be spoon-fed or learn proactively."
Where trainees need to acquire an overall grasp of the company's full operational activities, they will take turns to learn the ropes in all related departments for the first year. Then they will be given specialised on-the-job training in their assigned posts before undertaking one final test project to confirm that they have properly completed the programme and are fitted to move into the workstream.
"Staff movement has been unstable since the upturn of the local economy," says Ms Hong. "However, we believe that a company like ours with 40 years of history with commitment to the community and to staff should attract and retain talent not only by financial benefits. Quality candidates like Mr Lui should also consider whether a job can open a new sky to develop their career as well as stretching themselves to achieve their personal goals."
Mr Lui agrees, "Opportunities always come with greater challenges. In any job, we gain both the know-how and confidence from past experiences to deal with difficulties in the future."