From Intern to Key Employee

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02 October 2023

Advanced programs and virtual reality: UTLC ERA improves employee training methods

UTLC ERA’s Director for Organization Development Olga Baruzdina, spoke to 1520 International in an interview on the company's collaboration with Russian universities, the organization of internships and traineeships for students as well as graduates, the nuances of bringing highly skilled logistics specialists up to speed, for creating a multifunctional interactive virtual reality classroom and the competencies that employers hold at a high regard today.

Basis of collaboration

1. Olga Aleksandrovna with which universities does UTLC ERA collaborate? What areas does it cover? 

– Currently, we are in close cooperation with two institutes, but we are actually partnered with four. In particular, we are collaborating with RUT MIIT in creating a multifunctional interactive class of virtual reality and along with MGIMO we have launched the master's degree program "Ecosystems of international trade." Meanwhile, our executives, including our CEO Alexey Grom, provide lectures at RANEPA, under the President of the Russian Federation and the Corporate University of Russian Railways (RZD).

Another component of our collaboration is the development of internship and traineeship programs, where we accept students and graduates fr om industry-specific universities. It is important to understand that there is a distinction between internships and traineeships. In internships, on the one hand, students work with us according to the schedule they are given by their institute.

Traineeships, however, I consider to be more interesting. Firstly, they are paid, and secondly, the duration of those programs ranges fr om 1 to 3 months long. Over that time, trainees acquire practical work skills, improve their qualifications in their fields, and also have a chance to stay and work at the company. After all, our goal is to find the most talented and promising students and keep them at UTLC ERA.

Traineeships have become the highlight of this year. We currently actively recruit trainees and develop individual cases that not only may be of interest to the trainee but also be beneficial to us. In cases such as these, the selection criteria for applicants are undoubtedly stricter since, in a sense, we are searching for future leaders for our company.

2. How do you sel ect talented students for internships? Do you have your own selection system? 

– Our company is highly interested in that and we regularly receive internship requests fr om students. So far, we haven't had to turn to the market due to a lack of candidates. There are also cases wh ere students are accepted for internships after successfully completing practical experience at our company.

Generally speaking, I can tell you the basics about the selection structure based on the system prepared for the start of joint educational programs with MIIT and MGIMO. For example, we have identified several stages of internship selection.

The first stage is academic performance, in which respect the student's grade point average must be above 4.5. Proficiency in English and Chinese languages is highly valued. We also look at what additional certificates and documents the student or graduate has which indicates that they’ve participated in competitions and other initiative movements. The second stage is a test assignment that future interns receive by email. It is individually developed for each area of the company's activities. The HR department, together with the mentor of the respective department, outline the set of things that the intern must know. At this stage, the application essay is also important, in which the student or graduate is to indicate why exactly they want to work at UTLC ERA. The third stage is the final interview, which is conducted face-to-face to make the final decision regarding the internship. All tests are evaluated on a scoring system. The choice is made for an intern among the candidates who have scored the highest number of points.

3. Could you tell me about the joint master's program at MGIMO and what its advantages are?

– The "Ecosystem of International Trade" master's program has very ambitious goals. It's worth noting that it has a very good enrollment rate. Typically, master's programs have 20-25 students. We, however, have 51 students. We are just now launching the program and there is already quite a level of interest. We hope to meet all of their expectations.

The program's goals are specific and extensive, including the preparing highly qualified specialists in the field of international trade and logistics: competitive, creative professionals capable of effectively solving problems in the context of digital transformation. Another goal is to improve decision-making skills given the constantly changing external environments, taking into account international and regional peculiarities.

Our director Alexey Nikolayevich Grom will also teach a course in the program. Our task is to give students as many opportunities as possible to analyze real-life cases so that they can bring forth solutions and find answers to problems that we may not have come up with at the company yet. Lectures will be held in a live communication format, which will provide for maximum interaction for joint decision-making.

4. How are students applying for internships allocated among the UTLC ERA departments? 

– Our specialists are well aware of when the high season is around the corner, when there will be a lot of work to be done. This is precisely when extra hands are needed to be called in. Each department has its own specific time when they need an intern. For some, that’s at the end of the year while for others it’s during reporting periods. In 2023, UTLC ERA needs six interns.

It is worth noting that interns have their own vision for work processes to improve. For them, the world is full of discoveries, they offer new ideas, and they want to implement them. Sometimes these solutions are very useful indeed.

5. What are the mechanics of the internships, and what competencies are they aimed at developing? 

– It is my personal belief that the fundamental knowledge is necessary and needed, but I think our world is changing at an extremely fast pace, and innovative approaches to education is necessary. It is important that when students graduate their educational institutions, they not only have a set of theories but also understand how to implement these theories in practice. One of the most important skills for them to have right now, in my opinion, is the ability to quickly gain a grasp of situations and maintain flexibility in their decision-making. This is exactly what we are working on now.

6. Olga Aleksandrovna, how is educational task development work organized and how much time does it take? 

– Here’s how things are at RUT (MIIT). The VR program project at the Institute of Management and Digital Technologies (IMDT) has been undergoing implementation since 2022. Essentially, it is a unique project for creating a multifunctional interactive virtual reality classroom aimed at forming an individual learning trajectory using VR technology to develop skills and competencies in solving complex transport and logistics tasks related to supply chain management, interaction between different modes of transportation, and participants in the transport and logistics market under conditions of uncertainty. At the core of the program is a modern classroom with advanced computer and interactive equipment as well as custom thematic software specifically developed for educational purposes.

The main target audience is students studying in the specialty programs and bachelor's programs in the field of transportation process organization, the transport business, and logistics. Throughout the program, we implement three situational games that are close to real-life situations. Unique scenarios are developed, which entail complex work to be done. In addition to issues such as wh ere to procure necessary equipment, there is a need for writing provisions for the virtual program. All educational tasks are developed at MIIT. The university's teachers have been working intensively on this project throughout the year.

For example, the games "Negotiating Delivery Terms," "Creating International Routes," and "Studying the VR Technology Operation of Infrastructure Objects in the Transport and Logistics Complex" develop a significant amount of theoretical and practical skills, but each of them features unique additional scenarios. Situations arise in which the student has to make decisions on their own.

7. Does the company have cases of employing MIIT graduates? 

– We are happy to hire graduates from MIIT. I would like to note that in our company, 3% of employees are graduates who were hired after their internship. Another statistic is that 39% of UTLC ERA employees are graduates of MIIT.

8. Are internships a benefit for the employer or an additional burden?

– On the one hand, it is of course a burden on the mentor. We understand this full well. An employee who receives a student or intern has to devote a lot of their time to them. They need to develop a plan as well as determine and delegate a pool of tasks for them. This is also a labor-intensive job, but in the long run, we see nothing but positives, in my opinion.

Firstly, we see if the intern is a good fit to work at the company. Are they a unique individual or just a good performer? The only caveat is that we cannot always hire everyone because there are not always positions open. But as a rule, those who really want to work with us find a way to come back. Sometimes all they have to do is wait or come back for another internship. For example, a student who did their first internship with us said they would definitely come back next year but for now are continuing their studies.

By the way, it is important to us that the internship does not interfere with the intern's education. So we do not accept interns during the academic process. We make an exception for the evening form of education, but even in those cases, we will ask the institute's curator if the internship will interfere with their studies. We also pay close attention to the dates when the student is available to work with us.

9. Olga Aleksandrovna, tell us about the work of the internal ‘Marketplace of Opportunities’ platform. 

– We have an internal platform called the "Marketplace of Opportunities." I would like to note that it was a MIIT graduate UTLC ERA hired after completing an internship with us that us helped develop the program. On the "Marketplace of Opportunities" platform, specialists from different departments of the company talk about the intricacies and nuances of the work they do. Now any employee can listen to these lectures and complete a series of tasks, and for those who plan to further their career development, there is a special task they need to complete – prepare and defend a project. Upon successfully defending the project before the company's management, the employee gains the opportunity for a promotion or to transfer to a new position. An additional bonus of this project is greater cross-functional collaboration. Consequently, the "Marketplace of Opportunities" has become a good example of a project initiated by an intern aimed at developing UTLC ERA as a whole.