A summer on-the-job placement scheme with companies here and overseas gives participants the big corporate picture THE ENTRY LEVEL for jobs is constantly rising as today's corporate world grows increasingly competitive. It is for this reason that the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has created the Preferred Graduate Development Programme (PGDP), which gives students an on-the-job experience that will serve them well when they launch their careers. Every year, more than 800 companies and organisations team up with the PolyU Students Affairs Office to arrange summer placements for students to work in Hong Kong, the mainland or overseas. Students have been sent as far afield as Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico, and also closer to home in South Korea, Thailand and Japan. The programme is recognised as one of the largest and most successful work-integrated learning initiatives among universities in Hong Kong. More than 6,000 students have taken part in the scheme since it was launched in 1997. Dorinda Fung, PolyU director of student affairs, described the scheme as a win-win arrangement that benefited both the students and the participating companies. Students build up their confidence and communication skills while learning to understand employer expectations. Ms Fung said that PGDP participants engaged in real-world activities rather than playing token roles with artificial responsibilities. Often they are put in charge of short-term projects which they are expected to complete. Partner organisations benefit by hiring cost-effective quality interns with professional knowledge and skills. It is also an opportunity to identify potential permanent staff. 'The enthusiasm and commitment shown by the growing number of our partnership companies and organisations is key to the programme's success,' Ms Fung said. The students and their temporary employers are matched after a close study of expectations on both sides. Some students opt for work experience outside of their field of study. For example, nursing students may choose the hospitality industry to gain experience in service delivery and person-to-person skills. 'The Preferred Graduate Programme is often the first time students have the opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt in the classroom,' Ms Fung said. Participants also learnt to communicate with managers and colleagues in the corporate style, which was quite different to the university environment, she said. Before any placements are made, the students get at least 10 hours of training on working world themes such as personal competence, excellence in the workplace and ethics in the workplace. They are also shown how they can maximise on the placement experience. Students also conduct a self-assessment before and after taking part in the programme. Ms Fung said the programme was designed not to create job openings, although this frequently happened, but to groom students to meet the challenges of the workplace and become an employer's 'preferred' choice. Students meet regularly during placements with a designated manager or mentor who supports, encourages and evaluates their performance and provides guidance. 'The workplace opportunities help students to get to grips with the big-picture issues. The placement is also a valuable experience and a source of knowledge,' Ms Fung said. Participants receive an assessment from the partner companies, and certificates of achievement or excellence based on their performance. 'The feedback from participating companies has been overwhelmingly good, which leads us to believe that our students are very capable young people who are well prepared to take on new challenges,' Ms Fung said. 'It also tells us that our allocation processes work very well.' In many cases students do not realise their own levels of competence until they have had the work placement experience, or how valuable their contribution has been during their temporary employment. Ms Fung said students often showed a noticeable increase in their general knowledge and social and communication skills, and a greater self-confidence after the placement experience. She said these were important life skills that employers expected in a preferred employee. Students can also widen their employment horizons by taking summer Putonghua courses and general education programmes at well-known mainland universities. These programmes are organised by the PolyU Students Affairs Office. There is also an intensive Leadership and Competence for Success training programme to prepare students for future working world challenges.