THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY, like most industries, likes its management personnel to come on board with some familiarity with their area of work. Cosmetics retailer Sa Sa International launched a management trainee programme in 2004 to support the company's long-term plans for development in Asia. 'There are two ways we can acquire talent to support expansion,' said Sa Sa International chief operating officer Ed Chang Shing-pok. 'We either train people up ourselves, or pay a premium to bring experienced people in from outside.' Mr Chang said it took time and resources to conduct an effective in-house training programme, but it was worth it. Trainees gained a thorough understanding of the company's operations, and with it a strong sense of belonging. Meanwhile, recruits with prior industry experience brought in their own skills and perspectives. 'We need both types of recruit - they complement each other,' Mr Chang said. There are two intakes a year. Twenty trainee executives are completing various parts of the programme. Eighteen months of foundation courses will be followed by on-the-job practice over the same length of time. Mr Chang said intake numbers depended on the quality of the candidates. Shortlisted applicants were put through a comprehensive selection process, which usually included participation in a debate, making an impromptu presentation and attending panel interviews with the top management. In their first year, the management trainees learn the basics of operating a retail outlet before moving on to a six-month attachment with a support department. This is followed by a second stint in a store, this time as a supervisor. In the final stage, the trainee is assigned a post-training position that takes into account his/her personal attributes. Overseas postings are a possibility. Mr Chang said the regime was rigorous, and for a reason. 'The retail business is not for everybody,' he said. 'Our store staff have to work irregular hours, wear uniforms and be service-orientated towards a diverse range of customers.' He said university graduates should have a good understanding of a company's work environment and culture before they became part of the management team. Working on the frontline gave them the chance to develop team spirit and a sense of what it took to do well in the firm. 'We invest a lot of effort and resources in the programme,' Mr Chang said. 'We genuinely want our management trainees to enjoy the programme and learn as much as they can and, ultimately, develop their career with us. We are happy to help them plan and launch a career that suits them, and we will reward them for what they contribute.' One current trainee is Anthea Lo Wing-sze, a Chinese University of Hong Kong sociology major, and she is a few months from completing the programme. She said parts of the first year were challenging, especially when dealing with overly demanding customers. However, things started to go better when she accepted that frustrations with customers were part of the job, and the learning process. 'This really helped me learn how to persevere and be adaptable, and build relations with customers,' Ms Leung said. Ada Lui Cheuk-yan, who studied communications, culture and linguistics in Australia, joined the company in the middle of last year after previously working in a bank. She saw the chance to develop a career in the beauty industry as a reward in itself. 'The bank job was quite dry and not for me,' she said. 'Here, there's a lot of teamwork and interaction. We also learn a lot through job rotations.'