Unilever targets creative graduates

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 12:00am

A fortnightly column introducing key trainee programmes

Improving the quality of the workforce is one of the keys to staying ahead in the overwhelmingly competitive fast-moving consumer goods business.

Three years ago, Unilever Hong Kong, one of the market leaders, restructured its two-year trainee development programmes, and modifies them every year to follow market needs.

The programmes, which had been quite restrictive, now offer participants the chance to rotate in departments, such as marketing and customer development, to nurture their skills in all aspects of the business. It is a move to comply with the global direction of the company in stepping up its activity in the marketplace and adding vitality to consumers.

'We have thought about how to build the professional strength of our staff. If they can possess sales and marketing knowledge, they will have a more accurate analysis and special insights of the market,' said human resources director Olivia Ng Mei-mui.

The multinational company, established in 1930, owns 400 brands of food, beverages, and home and personal care products. In Hong Kong, the company has about 170 staff. Every year, it hires two to three trainees out of about 700 applicants. The company doesn't have a preference for graduates from any particular stream despite the presence of many marketing and management majors. The company is constantly on the lookout for creative, flexible and adaptable staff. Candidates should be clear about their strengths and interests and have a strong aptitude for learning.

'Do not expect people to spoonfeed you,' Ms Ng said. 'You need to be self-motivated and take the initiative to learn. There are people teaching you how things should be done, but you also need to plan your own progress.' Trainees will be responsible for different projects and assignments during training, though experienced managers will coach them during this time. After the completion of the programme, all graduates will become assistant managers with specific functions.

Customer development trainee, Ewin Cheung Ying-nam, who joined in 2006, said: 'Good coaching is critical to career development. The valuable knowledge and experience they share with you at this early stage will help your career development in the next five to 10 years.'

In the selection process, the company will observe candidates' general competency and personality in a group interview. In the second stage, candidates' business sense, presentation skills and teamwork will be examined through a case study. An individual interview with human resources and department heads will be carried out for the finalists.

Customer development trainees, Lutricia Kwok Win-man and Winky Ng Wing-kei, both of whom also joined the company in 2006, said the firm's reputation attracted them to apply to join the programme. 'As a fresh graduate, I did worry if I would only be given the chance to take up tedious jobs,' Ms Kwok said. 'But the company has confidence in us. This pushes us to move forward and grow quickly.'

Ms Ng said she was trained to be quick-witted and stay positive through the programme. 'There are many different brands in the company and each of them has different positioning in the market,' she said. 'When you are handling different brands, categories and clients, you have to change and respond very quickly.'