The experience of starting post-graduate working life as a librarian and ending up managing one of New Zealand’s largest health supplements and healthcare manufacturing businesses has deeply informed Robert Yang’s approach to GMP Pharmaceuticals’ innovative graduate employment programme.
Founded in 1994, GMP Pharmaceuticals is a licensed dietary supplement and dairy powder manufacturer with facilities in Australia and New Zealand and offices in China. Its services include product formulation, label review, packaging solutions, shipping and providing regulatory advice across multiple regions.
It employs around 220 staff in East Tamaki, with more than 60% working in production and operational roles and 15% in quality and laboratory systems.
Yang, the New Zealand company’s Assistant Managing Director, says – like many businesses – GMP is challenged by a skill shortage in production and operational roles. Until Covid hit, recent migrants comprised much of the company’s workforce in those roles.
“Many people didn’t see their job as a career because such roles are labour intensive and they often felt stuck. We decided to change that by looking at how we can provide career progression opportunities, particularly for our production staff.”
GMP used to recruit in a traditional way that mostly assessed people based on their work experience. At times, that automatically eliminated many graduates, who were at the beginning of their careers so understandably lacked relevant work experience. So, the company worked with its recruitment agency Scitex to develop a recruitment model that, while taking people’s education and work experience into account, would focus on their personal attributes, alignment with the company’s values and culture, and their ability to grow with the business.
“As a result, we now seek graduates who are willing to learn and create value.”
The 2021 intake of 15 graduates under the new system has been highly successful for GMP and graduates alike. At present the focus is on hiring from New Zealand universities – not just because of Covid, but because GMP wants to contribute to cultivating this country’s talent base.
The graduates are mentored by managers and given opportunities to gain new experiences within the business.
“It comes down to what they want. We are here to provide a career platform, not to tell them what to do. It comes down to what they are passionate about and how they believe they can create value for us while growing their careers,” says Yang.
“These young people are fresh out of university, so we owe to them to give them real life value out of it. It’s ok for them to try something and make a mistake: fail fast and learn from it. That helps them as individuals, us as a company and society as a whole to grow.”
Robert says he wishes he’d had similar opportunities when he graduated: “My current role is a long way from my early days being a librarian. So many years were lost getting from that point to where I am now, so I am passionate about helping new graduates fast-track their way to a career that they love.”
Elizabeth Lu had started her final year of a Medicinal Chemistry degree when she started looking at in-house graduate programme options. GMP’s offering quickly caught her eye because of its holistic approach.
“I really liked the idea of trying different things within a business and working with a range of employees and managers who are really skilled in their roles”.
Since joining on a part-time basis in mid-2021 Elizabeth has particularly enjoyed working in / closely with different roles such as quality assurance, sales, and customer excellence while at the same time developing and honing her leadership skills.
“I’ve been able to learn fast on the job because it’s ok to fail, and it’s ok to ask ‘silly’ questions.
“Working alongside different roles in different parts of the business has helped me achieve better results faster because I understand where each is coming from, but also enabled me to help break down communication silos.”
She has also enjoyed the mentoring and education provided to herself and the other graduates, and particularly valued opportunities to step outside her comfort zone. For example, one team project involved doing a market analysis – something Elizabeth found daunting because her team had no sales or marketing people in it.
Despite that, her team won because it came into the project with no preconceived ideas and based its decisions on asking lots of questions, and thorough analysis. That experience showed her the value of never being afraid to try something new and also of asking lots of questions.
Elizabeth had originally planned to do post-graduate study then move into a drug development research career but has changed her mind since working at GMP and would like to stay with the company after she graduates.
“I’m particularly looking forward to helping mentor the next graduate intake. It’s been such a positive experience for me that it will be great to make a positive contribution not only to GMP, but to the wider workforce.”