2024 RT Amination Banner.gif

China Daily

News> Hong Kong> Content
Published: 10:16, December 01, 2023 | Updated: 11:10, December 01, 2023
Quest for talents
By Li Xiaoyun
Published:10:16, December 01, 2023 Updated:11:10, December 01, 2023 By Li Xiaoyun

Hong Kong braces for greater challenges in luring and retaining professionals as global competition heats up amid acute workforce shortages in post-pandemic economic recovery. Li Xiaoyun reports from Hong Kong.

Former US basketball superstar Stephon Marbury was thrilled and amazed by the speed with which his plan to promote the sport and start a business in Hong Kong was approved.

Marbury, with an annual income exceeding HK$2.5 million ($320,700), had applied under the special administrative region’s Top Talent Pass Scheme in mid-November as the city upped the stakes in the battle for professionals from around the world to help boost an economy battered by COVID-19.   

His application was approved within 24 hours, making Marbury one of more than 43,000 talents who have been allowed to live and work in the SAR through the TTPS since the beginning of this year.

Some companies that have been eying Hong Kong to set up their businesses here have told me that the (SAR government’s) move is a kind of turning point and a momentous change that has made them eager to come here.

Pham Binh Dam, consul-general of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in Hong Kong

Marbury, 46, who was appointed head coach of a Chinese Basketball Association team in 2019 after retiring as a player, said in a social media post he felt exhilarated by the “record-breaking” speed of the approval, and was excited at being able to come to Hong Kong regularly to promote basketball knowledge and culture.

In his second Policy Address in October this year, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu pledged to further enrich Hong Kong’s talent pool through a string of initiatives. Academically, the list of eligible universities under the TTPS was expanded, allowing graduates from five globally renowned institutions specializing in hospitality and leisure management to apply for career opportunities in Hong Kong.

Easing visa curbs

In sourcing talents, Lee proposed relaxing visa policies to enable professionals from Vietnam to be employed in the SAR, while measures have been introduced to streamline the process for individuals from Laos and Nepal to seek jobs and training, or for studies in the city.

Hong Kong’s comprehensive strategy to attract talents with diverse academic and cultural backgrounds has won wide acclaim.

“Some companies that have been eying Hong Kong to set up their businesses here have told me that the (SAR government’s) move is a kind of turning point and a momentous change that has made them eager to come here,” says Pham Binh Dam, consul-general of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in the HKSAR.

Given their geographical proximity and cultural affinities, Vietnam and Hong Kong share a natural connection. Flying from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City, the Southeast Asian country’s commercial center, takes only two-and-a-half hours.

“But, the visa restrictions that had been in place for many years had been the biggest obstacle, or a sort of bottleneck, in relations between Vietnam and Hong Kong,” says Pham. As a result, Hong Kong had not been the top choice for most Vietnamese people to visit or start a business.

According to the diplomat, Vietnamese  companies have almost “forgotten” about Hong Kong, as only three Vietnamese enterprises have been registered in the city so far. He believes the easing of visa curbs will open up many opportunities for Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Pham Binh Dam, consul-general of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in Hong Kong. (LI XIANG / CHINA DAILY)

Deepening HK-ASEAN ties

Lawrence Hung Yu-yun, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, says Vietnam’s robust economic development is a compelling factor for Hong Kong to attract talents from the Southeast Asian nation.

Based on data from the International Monetary Fund, Vietnam’s gross domestic product outpaced that of Malaysia last year, making it the third-largest economy among the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The information and technology sector has been a shining beacon of Vietnam, accounting for 14.4 percent of the country’s GDP, Vietnamese media reported in June.

In an interview with China Daily, Pham reveals that more than 60,000 students, majoring in IT, graduate from Vietnamese universities each year. This has enticed global electronics giants like Samsung and LG to set up manufacturing facilities and research centers in the country.

He underscores the synergistic potential for extensive collaboration in technology talent between Vietnam and Hong Kong, given Vietnam’s youthful and well-educated population, coupled with the SAR’s drive for innovation and technological advancement.

Hong Kong is an international city, which means that “if you work in Hong Kong, you work in an international environment,” says Pham. Hong Kong is also a safe place to live and work, bolstering its competitiveness in wooing world talents. However, policies alone fall short in attracting talents and businesses. 

Pham says he expects the SAR authorities to take proactive steps to intensify promotion and marketing efforts in Vietnam. This could involve signing memorandums of understanding and action plans with Vietnamese authorities, and cooperating with airlines and travel agencies to offer more travel options that would gradually make Hong Kong the top choice for Vietnamese nationals seeking employment, tourism and investment opportunities abroad.

Ceajer Chan Ka-keung, adjunct professor of finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, sees Hong Kong’s move into Southeast Asia in search of talents as a channel to unlock the ASEAN market.

This is something that’s important for the exchange of culture and understanding among people and regions. It’s a move to show (Hong Kong’s) openness, and to promote exchanges among institutions and industries.

Juan F. Perellon, chief academic officer at EHL Hospitality Business School based in Switzerland

Hong Kong’s comprehension of the ASEAN market, particularly the regional grouping’s economic landscape, is still somewhat inadequate, he says. For Hong Kong enterprises intending to invest in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations, the initial step is to recruit talents who are well-versed in the local dynamics of those countries.

In Chan’s view, the term “talent” defies a fixed definition — it does not exclusively refer to acclaimed scientists. In Hong Kong’s context, anyone who can contribute to the development of a specific industry can be considered talented. The city’s pursuit of talents capable of facilitating its cooperation with the Southeast Asian market aligns with its current needs, he says.

Strengthening talent diversity

Besides easing Hong Kong’s visa restrictions, the Policy Address proposed expanding the list of eligible universities under the TTPS by adding eight Chinese mainland and overseas institutions and universities, raising the total from 176 to 184. 

Among them are the top five schools listed in the QS World University Rankings that have provided specialized hotel programs in “hospitality and leisure management” in the past five years, such as the EHL Hospitality Business School, which has two campuses in Switzerland and one in Singapore.

“This is something that’s important for the exchange of culture and understanding among people and regions. It’s a move to show (Hong Kong’s) openness, and to promote exchanges among institutions and industries,” says Juan F. Perellon, chief academic officer at EHL Hospitality Business School based in Switzerland.

Juan F. Perellon, chief academic officer at EHL Hospitality Business School based in Switzerland. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hong Kong’s liveliness, openness, and abundant business and work opportunities have made the city a magnet for students and graduates from EHL Hospitality Business School, with 15 students currently enjoying diverse hotel internships in the SAR, says Perellon. “Such a move will certainly facilitate our contacts with the Hong Kong authorities and further increase the possibility of students securing internships or working in Hong Kong after graduation.”

Hung says the SAR government’s focus on hospitality management talent reflects a proactive response to consultations and feedback from the industry, as the tourism and service sectors play a significant role in the local economy, and are grappling with talent shortages.

Legislator Dennis Leung Tsz-wing says problems like the acute shortage of labor following the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a decline in the overall quality of Hong Kong’s services. He believes the measures to facilitate the employment of hotel management professionals will not only bolster the industry’s performance, but also beef up the city’s reputation among tourists.

Taking the exhibition industry as an example, he says cultivating an international workforce with diverse cultural backgrounds and nationalities can contribute to strengthening the international nature of services, thereby better serving visitors from various countries.

Ceajer Chan Ka-keung, adjunct professor of finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Reinvention to avoid brain drain

Having attracted talents, the next step is to keep them in Hong Kong and have them contribute to the city’s long-term development. But, Perellon believes that retaining talents poses a significant challenge amid worldwide competition for professional people.

If Hong Kong enterprises aspire to invest in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations, the initial step entails recruiting talent well-versed in the local dynamics.

Ceajer Chan Ka-keung, adjunct professor of finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Through EHL Hospitality Business School’s Singapore campus, Perellon says he has seen how the Lion City is developing similar talent policies to attract talents from around the world, either students or professionals, in a variety of domains.

He notes that the hotel industry, and the entire service industry in Switzerland, is facing a similar workforce shortage, which is not limited to high-level management positions, but also to middle and entry-level positions.

Perellon reckons that the industry should “reinvent” itself as the pandemic has brought about significant changes, with employees, particularly the younger generation, placing greater emphasis on environmental sustainability, quality time with their families, personal growth, and alignment with the companies’ values.

In this regard, the ability of companies to offer talents on-the-job learning, cross-departmental rotations, and support for their families to settle in Hong Kong will play a crucial role in determining whether the industry can retain them, he says.

Retaining talents is a shared responsibility that requires concerted efforts by both the industry and the government. Hong Kong Talent Engage, which was established in October, is seen as a tangible manifestation of the government’s commitment to retaining talents. The unit is aimed at providing comprehensive support for professionals interested in coming to Hong Kong, or those who are already in the city to live and work, in order to facilitate their smooth integration into the local environment.

There’s consensus among experts that it’s important for the government to periodically follow up on the progress of inbound talents through the TTPS, in a bid to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

According to Hung, the human resources sector, including his organization, is actively considering collaborative research initiatives with other institutions to gain deeper insights into the working and living conditions of nonlocal professionals in Hong Kong.

Contact the writer at irisli@chinadailyhk.com


Share this story

CHINA DAILY
HONG KONG NEWS
OPEN
Please click in the upper right corner to open it in your browser !