Unilever gives trainees chance to sink or swim

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 December, 2009, 12:00am

From Lipton tea to Dove personal wash, many of the best-known products we use at home are made by Unilever. The company has an extensive range of well-known products and is continually launching innovative items to meet consumer demand.

The Unilever management training programme offers trainees a special opportunity to join this dynamic and evolving company and gain extensive hands-on experience in managing famous brands.

'Unilever is a leading, fast-moving consumer goods company,' said Jacqueline Chan, a senior human resources manager. 'Everything changes so fast. We expect trainees to adapt to the fast pace, so we closely supervise their training and devote a lot of opportunities and resources to help them grow.'

The programme is meant as a fast track into management positions, packing about five years of training and experience into just two. It gives trainees a lot of responsibility right from the start and backs this up with extensive training.

Trainees undergo an 18-month placement in a marketing or customer development function. Those in the marketing team manage a wide array of products and drive the respective categories, in addition to closely monitoring market trends and analysing consumer needs to make sure the brands are adding vitality to consumers' lives. They also have to develop and execute integrated communication plans through the media and in stores.

Trainees in the customer development team have to work with the marketing team and the retailer to ensure the right stock is placed in the store at the right time. They have to think ahead all the time by introducing new initiatives to keep retailers excited and they must deal with practical challenges such as logistics. After the 18-month period, trainees join the other team for six months.

Joanne Ngai Mei-ling, an assistant customer manager who joined the programme in 2007, said: 'It's a golden opportunity that a fresh graduate could be given a comprehensive training on key account management and brand building under a two-year intensive programme.'

She said nothing was more exciting than being given a chance to manage a large business in a dynamic market while working with the best people.

The programme not only gives trainees an exposure to the company and its energetic culture, it also gives a lot of personal responsibility to trainees.

Chan said this helped ensure that trainees would acquire the skills and versatility needed to work with a leading name in a fast-paced industry.

'They have to be very creative and have a commitment to solving all the problems and issues,' she said. 'That's why from the beginning we train them to have the guts and confidence to solve all these questions in the future.'

Adrianne Wong Ka-ki, a graduate of the programme who is now an assistant product manager, said for her first project as a trainee she was responsible for launching a new Lipton chocolate milk tea. She was in control of communication plan development, budget management and stock handling. As a new initiative, she organised a large sampling of more than 300,000 samples of the drink.

There was a last-minute crisis when the samples didn't arrive on time and, through leading the emergency plan, her crisis management skills were definitely sharpened.

Ivy Hui Yi-shun, who has been a marketing trainee for five months, has already been made responsible for the Lux Personal Wash brand and organised a television launch.

'Trainees I know in other companies sometimes just focus on one or two projects,' she said. 'In Unilever, I get a lot more control. Although I am a trainee, I am in control of the whole brand, everything from daily operations to marketing strategies and even stock management.'

Unilever provides trainees with a wide range of training to build the skills they need. There is a particular emphasis on developing soft skills vital to trainees' roles.

'Other than classroom training in negotiation skills, presentation skills and brand building, we also had e-learning,' said Ngai. 'Our senior manager will also have regular reviews with us and identify areas we need to work on. Then HR will arrange workshops.'

Raymond Wong Kim-fung, a customer development trainee, said the programme also let trainees learn by working closely with more experienced members and observing their management styles. He enjoys the great responsibility and trust granted to trainees.

The programme combines the chance for trainees to work with and learn from energetic senior staff with extensive opportunities to personally take responsibility for projects.

This mix means they quickly build the distinctive management skills needed to continue injecting into Unilever the dynamism and creativity which have made the company so successful.