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High schoolers get head start on jobs

MOST Chinese high school students are so driven by exams and the need to get into university that they don't have much time to think about majors and careers. But some are starting early as summer interns. Fei Lai reports.

Internships are typically for university students, but now some high school students, as young as sophomores, are starting early, getting a feel for different professions, and thinking about future majors.

Recently 965 high school students from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, took part in the "Professional Intern Day" campaign organized by Junior Achievement and offering real-world internships and training.

The campaign has attracted more than 450 volunteers from different enterprises, acting as career guides for students.

It aims to give students insight into possible future careers before choosing majors in university. Thus, they get a better idea about careers, and required skills and responsibilities.

"Career education starts at an early age for kids in Western countries, which makes them more independent and business-minded," says volunteer mentor Wally Yu, 31, who graduated from St Mary's University in Canada. Yu is an IT projects and website manager of AmCham Shanghai.

"Comparatively, Chinese students' mindset is narrower. Since they receive career development at a latter stage of their student life, they tend to lack skills in getting along with others, professionalism and meaningful working experience."

11th grader

For 16-year-old Zhu Jiaying, getting a summer job in one of Shanghai's busiest business districts seemed too much and too soon - at first.

There're loads of summer homework for Chinese students and there's the college entrance examination to think about. So thinking about a real career seemed premature. Hit the books and then think about your future.

Now Zhu is sitting in a spacious meeting room of AmCham Shanghai on Nanjing Road W, talking with various professions as though she had been working for a while.

Zhu's generation, the so-called post-1990s, is usually considered quite non-mainstream and individualistic, not much interested in careers. But "half of my classmates are playing around most of the time and half are seriously thinking about their own future," says Zhu who studies at Shanghai Jianping High School.

"In this program I have visited different enterprises, listened to our mentors' advice on career development and their experience in college and in companies. It's quite rewarding."

The "Professional Intern Day Program" originated in the United States in 1996 and developed into a national activity two years later. Today more than 1 million students take part each year and the program has more than 100,000 sponsors.

Foreign students

While Chinese high school students are getting a taste of the real world, five foreign high school students are in Shanghai to learn about being an entrepreneur and soaking up Chinese culture.

Compared with their Chinese post-1990s peers, they are more internationally focused and ambitious in career and business. This difference partly reflects the differences between China's exam-driven education system and Western education, which stresses experience as well academics.

The five - with interests in business, Asia and having some language skills - come from America, Austria and the UK. They took part in the just-concluded four-week Young Entrepreneur Summer Program. It's organized by Next Step Connections, which organizes year-round professional internship programs in Shanghai and Hong Kong with leading enterprises.

Major problems for students moving from campus to the professional world stem from lack of knowledge about requirements of the workplace, says Bradley A. Feuling, CEO of Kong and Allan (Shanghai) Consulting, which funds Next Step Connections. His observations apply very much to Chinese students.

"These requirements are different from those in the familiar academic world. They're about workplace skills, speed, pace, expectations and self-motivation.

"It often takes students a few years of work to correctly understand how to develop and position oneself for success in the professional world."

Next Step offers innovative experience with entrepreneurs, and students receive practical training and advice. For example, they learn how to turn an idea into an executable business plan and present it to investors.

The program is supported by Donghua University where students receive lectures on business administration. Chinese language is also taught, so the students can advance their language skills. They visited the World Expo, Lujiazui financial center and tourist attractions.

Jackie Crawford, 15, was born in Scotland but lives in Hong Kong and has spent most of his time in Asia.

"I enjoy traveling and meeting interesting people around the world, so this course is an ideal way to spend the summer. Classes and training have been helpful."

The best part is exploring the city and making new friends and what he hopes will be future business contacts.

American Bruce Weber, 16, says the program has improved his Chinese and business skills. "This translates into learning how to be a businessman in China," he says.

"Shanghai is a center of entrepreneurial growth today," says Feuling. "Exposing students to this environment will expand their thinking and motivate them, benefiting the greater community around us."


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