Winter 2015
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CTDO Magazine

Hong Kong Youths Get Lessons on Leadership

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

MTR Corporation turned to its corporate responsibility policies to develop a student training program that closes leadership skills gaps affecting Hong Kong's future workforce.

One way to build a pipeline of potential employees is to invest in them early. That is the driving idea behind MTR Corporation's Train for Life's Journeys Program. MTR's focus on engaging youths in the local communities of Hong Kong is an outgrowth of the company's corporate responsibility mandate, and focuses on building community relationships while using training and development practices to teach soft skills and leadership development to teenagers.


MTR considers corporate social responsibility a key factor to its success, and developing people is a critical element of its policies. In fact, the company has a strong focus on nurturing an adaptive and effective workforce to meet the evolving needs of its business. What's more, MTR recognizes that today's youths are tomorrow's leaders, and it is committed to contributing to the development of the next generation of leaders.

However, a review of research on the leadership skills of young workers and students made MTR question whether it could count on a solid pool of leadership candidates in the future. To learn more, the company tasked its talent development team to survey Hong Kong youths about how they see their future. Some 500 secondary school students (around age 15) were sent questionnaires, and MTR conducted four focus groups with representatives from schools, parents, youngsters, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to dig deeper into the issue.

Although two-thirds of respondents were positive about their future, they also recognized that they were lacking the creativity, pro-activeness, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and teamwork experience to achieve their aspirations. Further analysis on the region's education curriculum revealed that these students were not receiving enough training to develop the vital leadership competencies they would need to compete in the workforce.

MTR leaned on the Community Care Action–Youth Development initiative of its corporate social responsibility policies to find a solution that could help close these skills gaps.

Reaching out

A special MTR working group—which comprised senior managers from marketing, human resources, corporate responsibility, operations, and management training; and employees from the company's various business lines—set to work on formulating a training and development strategy that would better prepare students with the right business skills. After much consideration, analysis, and planning, the working group created the Train for Life's Journeys Program.

The primary program goal is to broaden the horizons of students through learning activities, offering them an opportunity to expand their social network and to learn from one another. Meanwhile, the curriculum was built around input from several departments at MTR, local schools, NGOs, and students.

To start, students participating in the program conduct a self-assessment to pinpoint skills they need to work on. In particular, all participants take an accredited emotional quotient assessment test and an Enneagram assessment test to help them understand their strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Additionally, the students are asked to prepare a learning contract that lets them set specific learning goals to help maximize performance in the program—and potentially their careers.

Next, a blended learning approach focuses on core content areas, including self-management, problem-solving skills, project management skills, and teamwork. Some of the classroom-based activities include a three-day leadership development camp, a three-day residential experiential leadership workshop, role-playing exercises, hands-on visits to MTR sites, and action learning volunteer projects that focus on community service. Online materials are used to supplement classroom learning experiences.

Preparation of Hong Kong's future leaders doesn't stop there. Reinforcement resources and activities continue students' development. With the support from the marketing teams, a series of video interviews capture alumni's application of newly acquired skills in their daily lives, and management and team leaders are invited to share leadership experience and application tips. A Facebook page was made available to keep graduates connected and serve as a knowledge-sharing platform, and a newsletter includes information to reinforce the leadership skills they learned.

Making a difference

Since 2009, 600 students have gone through the program—100 each year. More than 90 percent of graduates have reflected that they are very satisfied with the program and would recommend it to other students. More importantly, participants have made demonstrable gains (11 percent improvement) in core areas, such as leadership competencies, communication skills, problem-solving skills, teamwork, and creativity. Further, they are applying their new skills in schools and communities and have become brand ambassadors for MTR.

Students in the program aren't the only ones making gains and building leadership skills. MTR employees develop and deliver all of the training—from the instructional design of learning materials, to facilitating face-to-face workshops, to even line-of-business supervisors coaching students during their job placement experiences. This work not only helps MTR better educate students for their future jobs, but it also helps current employees who worked on the program develop their own leadership, communication, and coaching skills.


For MTR Corporation this is a win-win. The company gives back to the Hong Kong community by playing a significant role in cultivating the workforce of the future, and it develops essential skills that will help its current workers thrive in a competitive workplace.

About MTR Corporation

Established in 1975, MTR Corporation has been developing and managing world-class railways together with property and community development in Hong Kong and overseas, with an aim to be a leading multinational company that connects and grows communities with caring service. MTR Corporation now employs around 16,000 staff in Hong Kong and another 16,000 overseas.

MTR Corporation’s giving back story was told by Jacqueline Tong and Chester Tsang. Tong is general manager of branding, and China and international business marketing. Tsang is the acting general manager of human resources (China/International and Development). The Train for Life’s Journeys Program is a recipient of the Association for Talent Development’s Excellence in Practice Award.

Are You Giving Back?

Giving back to our communities doesn't just mean reaching into our wallets. Many nonprofits and community organizations can use the skill sets of talent development professionals. How do you define "giving back" and how do you think it affects your organization? What are you or your employees and organization doing to give back to the profession or society at large? CTDO would love to share your giving back story.

Contact Ann Parker, manager of the Association for Talent Development's Senior Leaders and & Executives Community of Practice, with your ideas and stories.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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