Human Resources Online: Why APB is forging ahead with its graduate programme amid COVID-19

Human Resources Online: Why APB is forging ahead with its graduate programme amid COVID-19

Continue to keep people at the heart of your plans, even as these uncertain times linger on, says Shaun Ee, Human Resources Director, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, as he shares why the firm has forged ahead with the Asia Pacific Graduate Programme amid the current business climate.

In the current business climate, why is APB still forging ahead with the Asia Pacific Graduate Programme?

People are at the heart of our company and during these times, it becomes even more important that we continue our relentless focus on our people agenda. One of our key people priorities is building a sustainable pipeline of talent in Singapore, and the Asia Pacific Graduate Programme (APGP) is an excellent platform that we use to hire the best talents for our business.

How will the Asia Pacific Graduate Programme be different in this climate?

With COVID-19 restricting travel around the world, the APGP has also been adapted to the new normal. We have put in place a more robust, yet agile curriculum to support the programme – Where previous graduates will undergo two overseas functional assignments sandwiched between a functional and cross-functional assignment in Singapore, they would now spend their first two assignments in Singapore, as they are put through comprehensive onboarding while gaining functional skills and experience through an end-to-end business curriculum.

The next two assignments are spent overseas where they build valuable skills like adaptability, flexibility and resilience – critical traits that will define and prepare the graduate for his/her landing role. As each assignment is 6 months long, there is sufficient time for our graduates to build up experiences and broaden their skills.

How does the programme cultivate the next generation of talent? What skills can graduates gain from the programme that will give them an edge in the future of work?

The APGP is an exciting two-year programme where graduates enjoy the opportunity to work with world-class brands and learn from some of the most experienced and talented people in the business.

This is an experience that will shape and develop graduates for a stimulating career and set them on a course to be one of tomorrow’s leaders in one of our seven business tracks (commerce, supply chain, finance, human resources, corporate affairs, legal and digital & transformation). Graduates will enjoy an accelerated career progression filled with developmental opportunities locally and regionally, where skills like adaptability, flexibility and resilience will be honed.

What are some competencies APB is looking out for when selecting graduates for this programme? Why these specific skill sets?

We are looking for graduates who have strong leadership skills and extra-curricular involvement, with a desire to work and live across Asia Pacific as they brew their career with us. Importantly, we want graduates who have a passion to learn and are unafraid to uncage their courage by challenging the status quo, and pushing themselves to their limits.

What advice does APB have for other organisations looking to implement similar programmes during these uncertain times?

Continue to keep people at the heart of your plans, even as these uncertain times linger on, because your people are your greatest asset that will enable you to ride through and out of this current storm. Leverage these opportunities to build your talent bench that will steer you into the future.

Under the APGP, APB Singapore offers fresh graduates the opportunity to kick start their careers in the fast-paced beer industry in APAC.

The intensive, two-year programme lets graduates rotate between four assignments every six months – two in their home turf, and two abroad at any of the 20+ HEINEKEN operating company in APAC to broaden their horizons.

Human Resources Online spoke to two participants of the programme – Aaron Er (left), Commercial Development Manager, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore and Onn Wei Cheng (right), Total Productive Management Manager, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore – to find out more about the key skills they picked up along the way, and more.

What is one skill you picked up during this programme that you weren’t taught in school? And how do you foresee that helping you in your professional growth?

Aaron Er (AE): Hard skills aside, the first thing that came to mind, and that I am still “picking up” is empathy. In school, we tend to spend a lot of time with friends who are similar (i.e. our age groups, our interests, the majors we study etc.) APGP has introduced me into a smorgasbord of cultures, people, and contexts – our consumers, customers and colleagues are all diverse and unique. To give a few examples from my overseas stints:

  • Myanmar: some groups fold arms as they listen – they mean it as a sign of respect, contrast to what we had been taught that folding our arms is a “negative” body language which represents one being closed-off.
  • Vietnam: putting ice cubes in beer is the norm partly due to hot weather, and also historical influence of not being able to get access to good refrigeration systems
  • The Netherlands: putting ice cubes in beer is akin to blasphemy This had tremendous impact on my growth – both life and professional – it encourages me to stay humble and curious, to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Onn Wei Cheng (OWC): Back in school, goals were simpler and the route to the goal was very much defined. However, in the workplace, with more complex objectives and sometimes conflicting, the route to our collective goal might not be as clear. To do that, it is up to us to prioritise as a team and on a larger scale as a company.

Being part of the APGP had allowed me to prioritise my work more effectively. Through the different rotations across different functions, I had the exposure to the varying nuances across the business and that gave me a holistic overview of the company’s operations before deciding what should be my next course of action.

All in all, it is about having good alignment between teams while managing resources so we can work towards our goal together. As you grow from an individual contributor to a team contributor, you succeed not when you succeed individually, but only when we succeed together.

What’s the most valuable lesson that you have learnt from the programme or your mentor? Why?

AE: All Trainee Graduates are tagged to management mentors and they dish out valuable work-life advice. On my end, my regional mentor imparted me this motto: “for both life and work, it is to always be aware our assumptions while we make our conclusions”. The world is larger and more diverse than we can imagine, and we often do not know what we do not know. It is important to be aware of our own cognitive bias (Dunning-Kruger effect), and to always stay open and humble to prevent ourselves from falling victim to it.

OWC: People are at the heart of our business, but how to be a good people manager? I recall the book club session with my regional mentor, where we discussed about the learnings from the book, “First, Break all the rules” from Gallup. The opportunity to buddy up with management level mentors in the APGP was truly inspiring as they share insights help my team and I stay motivated and continue to perform.

These sessions resounded greatly with my personal experiences as they go beyond extrinsic motivation and focus on the daily needs of the team, which includes setting clear expectations, giving opportunities to perform, recognition, belonging and growth. It is a topic that I am still continuously learning about from my mentors, managers, peers and team. What I loved the most from the mentoring sessions was the meaningful conversations with my mentor on such topics, which goes beyond my current task and role, but still relevant enough for me to digest and apply for the years to come.