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Malaysia Star: Reality-style recruitment: "Doing away with the long interviews and tests that are traditionally associated with the hiring process, the Shell Gourami Business Challenge takes a new approach": Sunday 9 October 2005

To select the best, Shell brought 47 university students from seven countries to Langkawi to test their potential to become permanent employees in the giant multinational, reports SHARMILLA GANESAN.The challenge included teambuilding activities to bring participants closer together. 

WITH THE current popularity of reality television shows such as The Apprentice, business games are fast gaining recognition as a potential method of recruitment.  

Doing away with the long interviews and tests that are traditionally associated with the hiring process, the Shell Gourami Business Challenge takes a new approach. 

Organised by global energy and petrochemical company Shell, Gourami is a week-long business and technical challenge that puts final-year university students through situations that simulate the workings of the business. 

The challenge included teambuilding activities to bring participants closer together.
Participants are assessed throughout the challenge and positions within the company are offered to those who fit the bill. 

Held in Langkawi recently, the challenge brought together 47 students from Australia, China, Egypt, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. 

The challenge required participants to work as part of a project team to develop and present a five-year business strategy for Shell’s operations in the fictitious country of Gourami.  

An imaginary country 

The word ‘Gourami’ (which refers to a type of fish) was chosen to fit in with Shell’s corporate branding theme of the ocean. Hence, it is not surprising to find within the country of Gourami other ‘fishy’ regions such as ‘Minnow’ and ‘Guppy’! 

Universiti Malaya petroleum geology student Shiv Prakash Babulal says Gourami was a great way for them to assess how they perform under real-life circumstances. 

“Gourami sets exact scenarios for us, which gives us an excellent view of the overall business.” 

The participants were put through team-building exercises to strengthen bonds and also had a “cultural briefing” to familiarise themselves with one another’s backgrounds and practices.  

They even had to learn some of the local “norms” of Gourami, such as how to behave in the Sultan of Gourami’s court!  

It was a frenzied week for the students as they worked late into the nightd to get their presentation done in time.  

The students were split into groups based on the various aspects of operations – exploration, manufacturing, sales and marketing, finance and human resources – and given the necessary resources and materials to come up with their business plan.  

Learning the ropes 

Their assessments were not based on the final presentation, but rather, how each of them functioned during the process. 

Like any country, Gourami provides its own unique opportunities and challenges; participants had to consider every aspect, such as the country’s economic situation, cultural norms and political stability.  

Ultimately, they had to come up with one business plan, taking into consideration each team’s projects. Coaches from Shell were there to guide them through technical and professional matters. The plan would be presented to a panel of “shareholders”, made up of senior Shell employees.  

Shell International Ltd global product and research manager Sarah Jayne Webb says the challenge is not a competition that pits the participants against one another as there is no restriction on the number of students who may be offered a job.  

Webb says teamwork is one of the important skills the students learnt.  

“We encouraged the different teams to work together. They soon realised that they all had to work together because each unit was a part of the whole set-up,” she said. 

The students agree that while they are eager to be given a position within the company, their main focus was to learn as much as possible. 

Great exposure 

“Participating in the challenge is a win-win situation. Even if I am not offered a job, I still gain valuable experience,” says Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia geology student Hezne Ezaty Abu Hasan.  

Originally developed as a case study for graduates, Gourami has been used as a recruitment tool in Europe for over 10 years. The programme was rewritten this year for global expansion, and was held for the first time in the United States and the Asia Pacific region. 

Participants were selected through applications as well as recommendations by their universities. The 16 students representing Malaysia were narrowed down from about 1,000 applicants.  

With business becoming an increasingly globalised arena, companies are favouring employees who are able to function well within an international team.  

Shell Asia Pacific head of attraction and recruitment Ragu Subramaniam says the diversity that is present in the Asia Pacific region is a strong point in favour of candidates.  

“Our cultural awareness is essential when working with an international team,” he says.  

“It was a really positive experience to work with so many different types of personalities from such diverse cultures,” says Tom Arnott, a mechatronics engineering student from the University of New South Wales, Australia.  

“I learnt how cultural aspects can affect the way a team works together, and how to handle working with an international group.” 

Wong Sing Hooi, who studies electrical and electronic engineering in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, agrees. 

“It’s a great exposure to the working world and people of different backgrounds. You also learn so much about your career prospects. I’d definitely tell students out there to give programmes like this a shot!”  

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