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Young and able

Published on Friday, 08 Nov 2013
Irene Luk
Photo: Laurence Leung

Wharf Group initiative aims to get the best from rising generation of staff

Much has been said and written about Gen Y, as HR practitioners slowly went through the process of discovering the generation’s different attitude towards work and trying to find the best ways to motivate them and make them productive members of their working communities.

It is well known how familiar Gen Y workers are with the latest IT and social media platforms, and how well they incorporate those in their work and daily lives. It has also been said that they are eager to learn, crave attention, feedback and recognition, and value work-life balance. They are also confident, aggressive, innovative and resourceful. They want to find a purpose in their work and need to be convinced of why things are done in a certain way.

However, with the generation born in the 1990s – commonly referred to as Gen Z – starting to enter the workforce, we know much less about their objectives, traits and attitude towards work. Companies are largely unprepared, with no strategy to lead and motivate these workers.

The Wharf Group made discoveries in this area by chance, thanks to their extensive and well-organised summer internship programme offered within the framework of their flagship “360°” school-improvement programme, Project WeCan.

The internship programme, dubbed the “Job Tasting Programme”, was launched in 2011 and works with 11 schools. It was held for the second time this year and offered summer internships to 100 students.

“Our Job Tasting Programme is probably Hong Kong’s largest and most comprehensive summer internship programme targeting secondary school students of humble background and less-competitive academic performance,” says Irene Luk, senior manager of personnel and administration at Wharf subsidiary Harbour City. “It offers business exposure and training opportunities to students to widen their horizons, earn real-life work experience and identify their career interests at an earlier stage, by placing them in reputable companies for a period of two to four weeks.”

This year, Wharf offered internships through 15 companies, including Harbour City and other subsidiaries such as City’super, Times Square, Marco Polo Hotels, i-Cable and Wharf T&T.

Internships start with a job application, which is conducted in the same manner as a real job application. Participating students aged between 16 and 19 are shortlisted, and have a formal group interview to assess their suitability.

In Harbour City, a shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, office jobs were available in the areas of promotions, advertising, technical services, personnel and administration. Operational positions, meanwhile, were offered in customer service and property management.

Interns are assigned mentors, with mentoring usually done on a one-on-one basis by middle management from relevant departments. Apart from learning basic office-support tasks, interns participate in meetings and job shadowing.

“Different departments across the company were mobilised to support the programme and contributed to its success,” Luk says. “For instance, an interviewing-skills workshop with interactive exercises was arranged for the shortlisted students by the personnel department of Harbour City to equip the students with the essential skills and techniques for job interviews. A one-day orientation training course which covered work ethics, attitude, standards and job responsibilities was also provided by the personnel department and the Wharf Institute of Service Excellence to students before they started work. Other departments were involved in on-the-job training, coaching and mentoring of the students.”

Detailed performance appraisals were conducted on the students’ work attitude, interpersonal and communication skills, quality of work, punctuality, strengths, and areas for improvement. Formal and informal channels were provided for feedback from students on their experiences and the programme’s overall arrangements.

In 2011, the programme’s first year, Luk says students found the internship programme unique in the way it was arranged and welcomed the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of a specific industry to assist their future career planning. Consequently, the number of applications greatly increased in 2013.

Mentors found the students energetic and quick to learn. “Though some of the students came from underprivileged families, they demonstrated their potential to grow and shine if they were given adequate training and opportunities,” Luk says. The programme also inspired mentors to pursue operational enhancements with creative ideas from the new generation.

Wharf also realised the importance of organising training on motivating and managing the new generations, as well as the need to equip management and supervisory staff with the necessary skills to drive new generations to achieve company objectives.

“As a sustainable move to nurture the young generation, Harbour City is now partnering with the Vocational Training Council and the Qualification Framework Secretariat to launch a new part-time professional diploma or certificate in facilities management in 2014. This will be for selected Project WeCan students for their further study and career development in our company,” Luk says.


Irene Luk details Gen Z’s attitudes and expectations
Democracy drive “The youngest generation desires democracy and looks for fun in the workplace.”
Networking need “They are capable of building a large virtual social community on the internet.”
All about me “They are self-centred and have a relatively short attention span.”
Fast improvement “They prefer instant feedback and comments, and seek prompt personal and career development.”
Go it alone “They don’t like ‘parental management’, so grant them a certain amount of autonomy.”
Real recognition “They like their needs promptly addressed, so gauge feedback via informal occasions and provide timely guidance and recognition.”


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