External learning expands horizons
Banks and other financial institutions offer comprehensive training programmes to introduce recruits to the sector and give them a good grounding in the skills needed to build a successful career.
But after a certain point, there is a limit to how much they can teach. In-house courses inevitably focus on issues and know-how directly relevant to the industry. But as junior managers move up to mid-ranking positions with wider-ranging responsibilities, they also need to develop new abilities and different perspectives, which are best found in an "external" learning environment.
That accounts for the high enrolment in various MBA programmes available in Hong Kong. It also explains why many banks are ready to offer such whole-hearted support for employees choosing to juggle the challenges of a part-time course with their full-time job duties.
"Before applying, I spoke in detail with my boss and was actively encouraged to go ahead," says Eamon Chu, a treasury risk manager in the dealing room at Hang Seng Bank. "And if I see any difficulties balancing work and study commitments - for example, at exam time - the bank helps to accommodate me."
Chu began a two-year part-time MBA at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology last August - and has so far found it to be a real eye-opener. One aspect is the requirement to study "brand new" subjects such as sales, marketing and business strategy. Another is the chance to take part in classes and group projects with fellow students from all walks of life - engineers, doctors, surveyors, entrepreneurs, and executives in everything from pharmaceuticals to IT.
"The fun of being in this class is that people are so willing to share their ideas and experience," says Chu, who joined Hang Seng Bank as a trainee in 2005 with a degree in psychology from the University of Hong Kong. "Hearing these different views enhances awareness of your own industry plus your understanding of other sectors and society as a whole."
Already, Chu has been able to apply classroom theory to day-to-day work situations. For instance, management courses dealing with communications and organisational structure have helped him understand how colleagues think and how to motivate them as a team.
Even for someone with several years' experience in banking, the finance and accounting modules have provided Chu with new insights and greater confidence in terms of analysing data and thinking through specific problems.
"I am now seeing more clearly how our work in banking and finance [has an impact] on other sectors and businesses," Chu says. "The MBA gives me not only a solid foundation for the future but also a sense of self-fulfilment and a new confidence in my abilities."