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How a cross-industry internship is helping university students gain real-world experience

How a cross-industry internship is helping university students gain real-world experience


In a unique initiative, Hyatt, Manulife, and Herbert Smith Freehills have come together to create more equitable career opportunities for minority communities. We find out about the programme's impact in a chat with Hyatt's Katie Carter.

Among the several progressive industry initiatives taking place in Hong Kong is the Diversity Champion Internship Programme (DCIP), a cross-industry endeavour to helps local university students from minority communities gain real-world experience.

Leading the charge for the second annual edition are employers representing three sectors, Hyatt, Manulife, and Herbert Smith Freehills, dedicated to helping these students build their networks and create more equitable career opportunities for them.

This year's project concluded successfully in August 2022, benefitting eight students from diverse backgrounds (pictured below), including those from minority ethnic and LGBTQ+ communities. Through extensive job rotations at each company, they gained exposure to the legal, hospitality and financial services industries. Importantly, they built relationships with business leaders who reflect their own identity.   

The programme witnessed a 90% increase in applications over the inaugural edition. Due to its success, Hyatt is looking to replicate the programme in other Asia markets too.

graduating dcip interns

With the programme being particularly critical for the hospitality industry at a time when it faces a shortage of talent, HRO's Aditi Sharma Kalra had the opportunity to catch up with Katie Carter, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Asia Pacific, Hyatt to learn about her experience and insights on being able to open up these new talent pools. 

Interview excerpts below: 

Q Congratulations on the success of the initiative! Could you share highlights from the second annual DCIP?

We are very proud to have developed this exciting programme in partnership with Manulife and Herbert Smith Freehills, united by a shared belief that a new, more targeted approach to attracting diverse talent to our sector and to enhancing our culture of inclusion. This is particularly critical for the hospitality industry at a time when we continue to grow while facing a shortage of talent.

After the first year, we knew we had successfully established a unique initiative that resonated with diverse young talent. Last year’s participants had highlighted the lack of role models in their work lives and there was a clear desire for opportunities to acquire hands-on experience and learn from business leaders. Therefore, this year we sought to deepen those opportunities through a combination of role shadowing, networking, interactive workshops, and a group project assignment.

We saw a 90% increase in applications this year, which really speaks to the appetite for such schemes. Because of this huge interest and the feedback we have received, we are looking forward to expanding this even further, and offering the programme in other Asia markets.

Q How do you identify the potential internship candidates from the minority communities?

The programme is open to all university students, and really aims to harness talent from a range of diverse backgrounds, including those from minority ethnic and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as those with disabilities. A total of eight positions were available, so selecting the final participants from the significant number of applications was challenging!

The key criteria we focus on are a positive, enthusiastic, and motivated attitude, a sense of innovation, and a genuine passion for diversity and inclusion.

Among these applicants we have seen a generation that is passionate about causes and achieving real change, so it is clear that companies need to demonstrate a tangible commitment to an inclusive approach to hiring diverse talent to bring in new perspectives.

Q Did you face challenges in getting internal stakeholders to give up some of their time in working with these interns? If so, how did you tackle that?

Hyatt’s purpose — to care for people so they can be their best — guides everything we do. It is rooted in empathy and allows us to see to our vision of a world of understanding and care. We are deeply committed to creating a culture where every single colleague and guest feels welcome, cared for, and like they belong. This means creating a culture that embraces and values everyone for who they are. We believe the more globally inclusive we are in terms of culture, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, perspectives, and styles of thinking, the stronger we are as a company and as a Hyatt family.

We’re proud to say that our senior management team have been supportive of the DCIP from the outset. For example, our president of Growth and Operations for Asia Pacific, Stephen Ho (pictured below), hosted this year’s closing ceremony, and other members of our senior leadership team participated in workshops and fireside chats with programme participants. We feel it’s important to integrate and show support throughout the organisation, and work with our teams to offer participants special opportunities to network as well as learn directly from industry leaders.

stephen ho hyatt resized jpeg 

Q A cross-industry internship is unique! What challenges have you faced in the roll-out of this initiative, and how did you overcome them?

In the early stages of discussion, we recognised that each of our sectors is facing similar challenges when it comes to engaging and attracting diverse talent, and that there has been a significant gap in traditional internship programmes. Students from minority backgrounds often lack opportunities or exposure in a range of areas, not only in gaining hands-on experience but also to network, to learn from positive role models, and to collaborate with peers. Therefore, by reassessing our approach and broadening our thinking to find commonalities, we were able to unlock new opportunities that may otherwise have never surfaced.

Q Looking forward, what do you see as the importance of diversity in the hospitality industry, especially in the lens of the global/local talent shortage as demand in this sector finally picks back up?

The last three years have presented significant challenges to the hospitality industry, with our sector being among the most heavily affected by the pandemic and associated travel restrictions. This has led to a visible shortage of talent and now, as the travel sector begins to show signs of recovery, demand is outstripping supply. For example, a recent survey by Manpower Group found that 97%, of employers in restaurants and hotels in Singapore were having difficulty filling their talent needs in 2022 as the country began to reopen. That is why we're so passionate to ensure we’re opening new pathways to bring talent into the industry through initiatives like DCIP.

Hyatt operates in many parts of the world, engaging with diverse customers, owners and communities. Being inclusive is therefore one of our core values and an expectation from our colleagues across the globe. We believe that seeking to understand different perspectives and incorporating them into our business decisions makes us stronger.

That is why we have set a range of key goals to achieve by 2025 covering three areas: who we employ, who we support, and who we buy from and work with. In each area we have set clear targets, such as doubling representation for women at the VP+ level in our Asia Pacific Hubs as well as among our hotel General Managers across the region. We also aim to achieve 10,000 hires across Asia Pac for RiseHY, our programme targeting opportunity youth.

Q Personally, what led you to a career in hospitality, and what keeps you glued to this sector?

It was the industry’s diverse experiences, global presence, and the passion of the people that drew me to hospitality. Being born and raised in West Africa to Dutch parents, I have always sought out environments where I can learn and understand various different perspectives. Hyatt was and is a place where I felt I belonged, and a company whose purpose and values aligned with my own.

Plus, there is always the opportunity to see different places, try new cuisines, and take part in exciting events – it is really an industry where you can never be bored.

On the sidelines of the internship's conclusion, prominent leaders across the participating companies have voiced their thoughts on the current and future talent outlook. 

Stephen Ho, President - Growth & Operations, Asia Pacific, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, is a firm believer on creating such pathways for talent that are achievable and impactful. He shared: "While our companies are from different sectors, we shared a common belief in the importance of advancing a culture of opportunity for all, especially young talent from diverse backgrounds. It has been inspiring to spend time with the younger generation who will contribute to steering organisations like ours in the future.”

Joy Xu, Chief Human Resources Officer, Manulife Asia (featured below, second from right), noted the DCIP is a testament to Manulife’s ongoing efforts in Asia to cultivate emerging talent and foster more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. She affirmed: "We are looking to expand the programme to other markets in the near future and would like to see more like-minded organisations join us to level the playing field for students from all backgrounds."

The team from Herbert Smith Freehills continues to be committed to constantly developing its understanding of diversity and inclusion. On this, May Tai, Managing Partner, Asia, Herbert Smith Freehills, said: "It was wonderful to have such an impressive group of young people spend a week at the firm. Theirs is the generation that will fully realise the benefits of the diversity and inclusion efforts being made today, and it’s great that they can play a role in helping to shape the future of the workplace."

joy xu manulife

Image / Provided (Hyatt)

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!  

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

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