Pacific Coffee Company has just become a co-operative education partner of Tung Wah College, having opened a co-op café on the school premises in October. "It is our responsibility to provide opportunities for teenagers," says Pacific Coffee chief executive Raymond Tong.
The company will hire about 20 students to work full-time for a year at the café and at its other branches. During the year, the company will monitor the students' performance and students will receive an evaluation report when their one-year working period comes to an end.
Tong says this is the first time Pacific Coffee has operated a café of this kind.
"We thought it was our responsibility to do something for society [and provide opportunities for teens], seeing as we've been a significant brand in Hong Kong over the past 20 or so years," he says.
The co-operative education scheme of Tung Wah College was a suitable vehicle, Tong adds. "Students have a chance to learn something that they cannot learn from books [and gain valuable working experience]. We agreed almost instantly when the college approached us," he says.
Tong describes the scheme as a win-win situation. "We need manpower to work at the café, and the students get something in return," he says, adding that the qualities they seek in students are cheerfulness and a readiness and ability to communicate.
During their tenure, students are paid the same as regular employees of the company. "We are not looking for cheap labour," Tong points out.
Can students become permanent employees after they graduate? "It is possible, we welcome them to join our family" Tong says.
Professor Thomas Wong, president of Tung Wah College, is currently working as a part-time barista at the café every Monday evening. "[The café] will undoubtedly help arouse our students' curiosity and [desire to learn]," says Wong.
"I have found that there's been a lot to learn at the coffee shop, like the names of coffee beans and how to pronounce them, where they come from, the difference between organic and non-organic beans," he says.
Wong continues: "If a student is enthusiastic about learning, he or she will definitely keep on asking. In fact, it is important for an employee to ask questions in the workplace.
"Students also learn how to manage a café [and] how to make use of limited space to achieve the greatest economic benefit, like how to make sure things are properly stored and that staff are working effectively," he says, adding that these logistics are valuable for students.
Participating students are required to get a "pass" to graduate.