In September 2012 two friends meet up on the rooftop of a building in New York. Panagiotis Madamopoulos-Moraris is in town for business and Nikos Koumettis is an already successful senior executive at The Coca-Cola Company. They are discussing the difficult circumstances in Greece and the high number of Greek scientists looking for work in the US. The two friends decide to do something to stop the brain drain in Greece. This is how ReGeneration was born – an initiative that aims to become the catalyst of internship culture in Greece.
ReGeneration is an initiative of the Global Shapers Athens Hub, a program of the World Economic Forum. As Spiros Milonas, ReGeneration’s project manager, explained, “Our aim is to give high-caliber young graduates with little or no work experience the opportunity to kick-start their career at a company in Greece, and in a job relevant to their studies and in a position that fits their personality.”
Designed by experts in human resources management, the program assists participants in discovering their capabilities and career path by combining academic background and talent through five stages. “This is how companies that participate in the program recruit the best minds and those who will evolve into the ideal business partner,” said Madamopoulos-Moraris, first curator of the Global Shapers Athens Hub.
“The statistics show that if the brain drain continues, companies will face a problem of underemployment in less than 10 years. However, they do not have sufficient resources to recruit new employees and offer high-standard training. This is why the program proposes high-caliber individuals to companies, to take on pro bono, creating the new generation of managers,” Madamopoulos-Moraris added.
ReGeneration is funded by The Hellenic Initiative (THI) and The Coca-Cola Company. The program’s success after just two years validates the “experiment,” Michael Printzos, program director at THI, told Kathimerini. He said that during 2014, the program’s first year, some 3,000 applications were received for positions at 21 participating companies, both Greek and multinational. A total of 55 paid internship positions were created and filled thanks to the program, and, at the end of the internship period, 80 percent of the interns renewed their contracts.
In the program’s second round, around 4,000 applications were received for 100 positions at 48 participating companies. As word spread, applications for the third round grew to over 6,000.
“Companies and society are interdependent,” explained Anastasia Sideri, The Coca Cola Company’s communications director for Eastern Europe. “This relationship needs to be strengthened in Greece because it’s part of the solution… it’s not just a sponsorship,” she added.
For Nikos Koumettis, ReGeneration was a dream that became reality, so that young people in Greece can gain the work experience to jump-start a career. “We want to create the next generation of managers who will fix our country’s problems and be new and capable leaders,” he said.
Learning how to work under pressure
Kathimerini spoke to three ReGeneration participants who have already received job offers from some of the most respected companies in Greece.
“Through ReGeneration, I started my internship at [insurance company] Metlife, in the sales department. I immediately realized that things are quite different in a multinational company. You learn how to work under pressure, demand more of yourself, and raise your sights continuously,” said Serafeim Papageorgiou.
Papageorgiou graduated from the Department of Statistics and Insurance at the University of Piraeus and told Kathimerini that the most important thing he took out of the program was the significance of meritocracy.
“I understood very early that there is no way you can get around the processes. The criteria and the processes are strict and I knew that all those selected by the companies deserved it. It takes a lot of effort, and you know that if you are good material you will progress,” he added. After completing his internship the company offered him a full-time job.
Zoe Tsilimpounidou studied business management at the Athens University of Economics and Business and is now working at the Corporate Affairs Department of Celestyal Cruises. Her internship has given her a sense of orientation.
“The company educated me in a sector I wasn’t familiar with. I found myself in an environment of professionalism and cooperation and later I was given more responsibilities,” she told Kathimerini.
Tsilimpounidou applied after hearing about ReGeneration from a friend. At first she had low expectations because she had no previous experience, while she was one of thousands of applicants. After reaching the personal interview stage, she chose the tourism sector, because, as she says, she loves to travel.
“It’s not easy to enter the sector, but the company gave me the opportunity to intern for six months. Then they renewed my contract. Cruising is one of the most interesting, difficult, but also emerging sectors of Greek tourism, where we face new challenges every day. These challenges give me the motivation to keep going and evolve,” she said.
Markos Karalis graduated from the Department of Informatics at the Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Athens and was a part of a team that started up a company that kept track of car accidents. At the same time, however, he was looking for a permanent job in a corporate environment. Logistics company TNT hired him as an intern in its IT department and then renewed his contract with new professional prospects.
“Each time I passed an assessment stage, I felt more and more satisfied with myself. I moved forward and now I am on a good track. You are assessed for what you really are and that gives you a great sense of self-confidence to keep going. You get the job because you deserve it, not because someone helped you,” Karalis said.
As he told Kathimerini, “I would have gone abroad if I hadn’t found work in Greece. I really love this country and I feel lucky that things went well for me. ReGeneration was a unique experience, even though I wasn’t sure I would make it to the end. I found the parts of the program that helped me identify my competencies very useful. They increase self-confidence and strengthen the spirit of cooperation within a team,” he added.