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Case study: How Big Bad Wolf recruits, trains and develops Millennials

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BookXcess is a remainder bookstore company founded by husband and wife, Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng, with a single-minded mission: to encourage the joy of reading by making books affordable for everyone.

Starting as a small remainder magazine shop in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, BookXcess currently has six outlets throughout Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley. BookXcess is also the organiser of the annual Big Bad Wolf (BBW) Sale, which in 2015 featured more than 3.5 million books for sale that attracted book lovers from all over Malaysia.

Since its inception, BBW only recruits and trains tertiary students/Millennials to work in the annual 24-hour book sale. In an interview with Jacqueline Yap, co-founder, executive director and HR director, we discuss the rationale, advantages and challenges in employing only Millennials.

1. Why do you specifically recruit tertiary students for the annual BBW sale?

Apart from making the joy of reading accessible and affordable, one of our other goals is to equip and empower undergraduates who are our future leaders with real-life work experience and leadership skills. They possess the right mindset as they are energetic, eager to learn, and best suited to work in an environment that requires a maximum 12-hours shift a day for 10–12 consecutive days during the sale.

The BBW working experience is intense yet positively charged. Students learn to overcome their personal barriers when they challenge themselves and succeed to complete a variety of assigned tasks. It also matches the youthful image of our company.

2. How do you select the right candidates given that most of them are inexperienced?

Our recruitment team verifies the candidates’ qualifications including their academic and previous work experience (if any). We also assess the shortlisted candidates’ capability and passion in the job through first-hand observation in the group briefing cum interview sessions (of approximately 80 candidates in each session) conducted by two–three senior BBW project executives. The shortlisted candidates are required to work in a team of eight, answering a set of prescribed questions related to work ethics and professionalism, and a BBW case study.

We find that this exercise allows us to identify the potential leaders among the teams, as well as accurately match the selected candidates to a suitable position.

Students possess the right mindset as they are energetic, eager to learn, and best suited to work in an environment that requires 12-hour shift for 10–12 consecutive days.

3. Which do you think is more important: skill/experience or personality/attitude?

Attitude. BBW is the platform that equips the candidates with working skills, etiquette and professionalism. They can only pick up these skills if they possess a determined, can-do attitude.

4. What were the challenges in training students, and how did you overcome these?

Different countries present different challenges in training undergraduates and fresh graduates.

In Malaysia, motivation is key in engaging the students. Most of them will only perform their assigned tasks with average effort if they aren’t given the opportunity to lead. However, they perform better and take pride in their work if we give them the appropriate amount of responsibility.

In Indonesia, we focus on team-building as it can be quite challenging to get the student staff to work effectively as a team. This is possibly due to our recruitment process – we engage a local recruitment agency that sources students from different tertiary institutions.

In all the countries that we operate, we subdivide the student staff into small groups with leaders and sub-leaders. The project managers are encouraged to constantly motivate the team, provide positive and constructive feedback, and lead by example.

5. Are there any things to look out for in working with and training Millennials?

Millennials are tech-savvy, smart and able to see the big picture. Their primary motivation to work is the quality of the work environment and experience, not money (although many of our student staff receive their first pay cheque when working for BBW). So it is important to motivate them with a sense of achievement. We award Certificates of Excellence to outstanding staff to recognise their commitment and boost their confidence.

6. How do you convert this on-the-job experience to job progression and professional development?

We offer returning student staff various leadership roles and positions. Crew members are offered the sub-leader position and sub-leaders are promoted to team leaders. Some student staff also take up mentoring roles within the team.

Our offers for professional development extend further:

  • We offer full-time, permanent positions to some of our former student staff who performed extraordinary in a number of sales
  • We allow our Malaysian student staff, who are still studying, to work in our overseas sales to gain different work culture and experience

The key qualities that candidates must possess to lead a team or progress further are reliability and integrity.

7. What are the lessons you’ve learned after working with Millennials for over a decade?

Millennials bring with them new a perception of how work life and relationships should be, but are often misunderstood as “not diligent” and “unreliable”. We, however, see them as a group of smart, resourceful and responsible employees.  Given the right workplace and opportunities, Millennials will strive to succeed by working and growing with the company.

8. How can employers in Malaysia play a part in shaping the future workforce?

Employers must understand that Millennials are the largest generation in the current workforce. It is important that employers give them continuous learning opportunities to acquire and develop the necessary knowledge and skill sets, as well as grooming them for leadership roles in the future. Employers should lead by example, and be passionate in guiding and advancing Millennials professionally and personally.

9. How would you encourage other companies to give inexperienced students and fresh graduates opportunities to grow?

Employers must give them an opportunity to lead, even in a small role with limited responsibility, as this boosts their confidence. Most of the time, they will do a good job.

As an established company, we have the responsibility to grow, nurture and prepare Millennials for the real world. We see BBW as a platform that provides such an opportunity to inexperienced students to be better prepared.

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