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University challenge

Published on Friday, 16 Nov 2012
Bianca Wong, group human resources director at Jebsen, says the firm values loyalty.
Photo: Berton Chang

A raging talent war in China is driving companies to go directly to universities to find new recruits to feed their continuing hiring needs.

The Jebsen Group – a distributor of premium brands including Porsche, Casio, Bosch and Pentax in Greater China – undertook an aggressive campus-recruitment campaign last year, hiring seven top graduates in the process.

Buoyed by the campaign’s success, the company is getting ready for an encore. This time it is targeting the best students for when they graduate in 2013 and is looking to hire up to 12 fresh graduates for its Jebsen Trainee Programme next year.

The catalyst for the programme is Jebsen’s rapid growth and business expansion in Greater China. In the past five years the company has doubled its staff from 1,000 to 2,000. Against this backdrop, merely buying talent is proving unsustainable.

“The Jebsen Trainee Programme is designed to groom young recruits for functional-specialist roles and potentially general-management roles,” says Bianca Wong, group human resources director at Jebsen. “We want to build talent from within. We are looking at this not in the short term, but in the medium and long terms from a talent-management perspective.”

The seven trainees hired in 2011, selected from over 3,000 applicants, are all from mainland China. Next year, Jebsen is looking to hire up to 12 fresh graduates. The company is also expanding its search to include more universities in both mainland China and Hong Kong. “In Hong Kong we’re looking for students who may be interested in working or developing their career in China,” Wong says.

The trainee pool may seem small compared to the hiring programmes of other companies. “There’s really a reason for us to keep it small. The trainee programme is not just to fill vacancies. It’s for us to have a very close relationship with the trainees, not only for our talent demand, but also for their career growth,” Wong says.

During the two-year programme trainees are rotated through Jebsen’s various departments. During each rotation trainees are assigned placement coaches who keep track of them and help them in their learning development. The exposure to a wide range of functions provides trainees with a clear idea of which areas are suitable for their long-term growth.

Wong says that trainees become very close with their mentors. “They have frequent discussions with their placement coaches. Our group career-development manager also speaks with them on a weekly basis to understand their progress,” she says.

Individual trainees are required to share their experiences in learning logs every month, which are reviewed by a talent-management panel that monitors their progress monthly.

“We have gained valuable insights not only from the trainees themselves, but also the champions – who sponsor the trainees in the different business units – and the placement coaches,” Wong says.

Making it onto the programme is no small achievement. Applicants undergo a rigorous selection process that includes face-to-face interviews and tests on language proficiency, presentation skills, personality and capability. Short-listed candidates go through additional rounds of more structured interviews.

Many of the tests – such as a mock presentation – are designed to see how candidates perform under pressure. “We give them a topic and they have half an hour to prepare a presentation in front of a panel of interviewers. This stressful process helps us find the most suitable candidates for Jebsen’s culture,” Wong says.

To facilitate future selection processes, Jebsen is setting up assessment centres in major cities and which are delivered by their group human resource department team with the line managers as assessors to assist with screening applicants.

Jebsen’s focus on China constitutes one of its biggest attractions to ambitious graduates. “Our main business is in Greater China, so we are very focused on long-term sustainable growth. For people who have a strong interest in developing their career in China, we can certainly provide opportunities for them,” Wong says.

Though trainees will receive a salary and benefits just like other employees, the experience and mentoring they will acquire will carry more worth. “We’re investing a lot of resources into their learning and development. A very focused, individualised learning-development plan will be devised for each trainee,” Wong says.

The programme also helps trainees identify the right career path for them with the support of one-on-one coaching from Jebsen’s group career-development manager. “In terms of career development and having a career path within Jebsen, the trainees have an advantage because of the dedicated resources we’re placing on them,” Wong says.

The company looks for a number of key qualities in its trainees. “We want people who are hungry for learning. They have to be hard workers and quick learners because when they are rotated into different functions things will be very different. They must also be open-minded to see opportunities for their own development and self-growth,” Wong says.

After investing so many resources into trainee development, Jebsen naturally expects the same commitment in return. “We want people who are committed and believe that Jebsen is the place for them to grow in the long run. Our investment is really for a long-term period and hopefully we’ll get their long-term commitment,” Wong says.

Wong is confident that upon completion of the programme, most, if not all, of the trainees will stay on. “We really promise a career for them in Jebsen and the opportunities are here because we continue to grow. We’re really not short of growth opportunities for them to move up within the organisation,” she says.

Trainees fortunately recognise the career opportunities that have been opened to them. “The Jebsen Trainee Programme adopts a tailor-made approach to provide detailed guidelines based on every trainee’s potential, performance and personality,” says a trainee from the 2011 intake. “It is not only a good place to start my career, but also a precious opportunity to enjoy personal growth full of challenges and surprises.”

Some trainees have already shown the potential needed to become future general managers, Wong says. “Investing in talent is our top strategic priority. We look forward to seeing them grow within the organisation.”

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