In today's tight labour market, where the competition for highly skilled staff is intense, one company has found a way to attract future managers. Tyco Fire and Security last September started an Asia-wide management trainee (AMT) programme that received an overwhelming response from about 1,500 applicants. Of all these hopefuls, only six - two from the mainland and one each from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and India - made it through the rigorous selection process. The successful trainees, all recent graduates, are set to become managers next month after an intensive 12-month training programme that saw them rotated through the different departments within the company. 'We believe that to attract the best talent, we need to differentiate our talent development programme,' said Roger Tsang, general manager Hong Kong and Macau of ADT Security Services, a member of the Tyco group. He added that one of the distinctive features of Tyco's AMT programme was that it had the backing of its Asia headquarters in Singapore. The idea came from Tyco Fire and Security's human resource director for Asia, Agnes Tan. 'Senior management places great emphasis on this programme,' Mr Tsang said. 'Not many other trainees have the opportunity to engage the company president.' Funding for the programme, provided by Tyco's Asia headquarters, varies from trainee to trainee, with costs for the programme going as high as US$500,000. The programme targets high potential and academically strong candidates. Applicants are required to have a basic degree, be proficient in English, and be customer oriented with excellent interpersonal and communications skills. 'It is the first [programme] of its kind that targets early career talent in Asia,' Mr Tsang said. 'We aim to identify these early career leadership talents and groom them to become future managers.' Shortlisted candidates are put through the paces in three selection phases: the first requires individual and group presentations to an interview panel, the second consists of interviews with Tyco's country managers and the company's regional general manager, while the third entails a final interview with Tyco's Asia president and its director of human resources. All trainees follow either a sales or an engineering track. They start off learning foundation skills common to both tracks, and are then required to attain the green belt certification in Six Sigma, a business management strategy that seeks to improve operational excellence by identifying and removing defects and errors in manufacturing and business processes. This is another distinguishing factor of Tyco's AMT programme. The final segment of the programme sees the trainees focusing on the key skills required for their specific jobs. 'Department managers will provide mentoring and coaching while providing on-the-job experience for the trainees,' Mr Tsang added. The managers-to-be can draw on Tyco's learning management system, one that comprises more than 6,000 courses covering every technical and soft-skill course designed for professional employee development. This internet-based system allows employees to access training records, events, materials and references at the click of a button, and provides consistency and convenience in learning. Besides these online training courses, there are courses taught by instructors and on-the-job training. All modules and checklists of the programme are found in a manual used throughout the region to ensure that the programme is consistent in the different countries. 'It is like attending a master's degree programme,' said Eddy Leung, a sales trainee in Hong Kong. 'I got my bachelor's degree from Lingnan University and now I am working towards my 'master's' degree from Tyco.' 'What sets this programme apart is that top management will listen to us,' said Heng Charng Yee, an engineering trainee from Malaysia. 'We have regular feedback sessions with our country managers, who are our mentors, and also the Asia manager. They ask us for our suggestions to improve the company.' Graduates from the AMT programme are put on an accelerated career path within Tyco. 'As soon as they complete the programme they are appointed managers. They assume either a sales manager or an engineering project manager position,' Mr Tsang said. The graduates might also be posted to other countries if they met their career aspirations, Mr Tsang said. Of the batch of six, two trainees have opted for overseas assignments while the other four are likely to remain in their own countries. AMT graduates automatically become members of the AMT alumni where their careers are continually monitored by the company. 'We look at their aspirations and their career growth path and we work closely with them,' Mr Tsang said. Trainees on the programme receive a salary that is, according to Mr Tsang, an attractive package for management trainees. They also get a completion bonus at the end of their 12-month stint. They are not contracted to work with the company for any length of time and are free to leave for other companies whenever they wish. 'We have been very successful with the programme,' Mr Tsang said. 'Their career development with us is one of the major motivations for these trainees to stay.'