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HongKong> Opinion> Content
Monday, April 29, 2019, 10:37
Innovative solutions needed for Bay Area talent shortage
By Dean Stallard
Monday, April 29, 2019, 10:37 By Dean Stallard

The opening of the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Bridge last September was a memorable event and a key step forward in the development of the Pearl River Delta region. The bridge has improved the flow of goods between all ports. It’s also proving a tourism boom on both sides of the boundary.

Not long after the bridge opened, the central government authorities unveiled the outline plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development. The goal is to develop the region into a model of high-quality development, an influential global innovation and technology hub and an internationally competitive first-class city cluster. 

To achieve these goals, having a good supply of talents is the key. However, the development of the Bay Area is outpacing the supply of talents, making innovative approaches to recruitment and retaining skilled workers a top priority across sectors and companies.

According to a recent survey, a total of 47 percent of companies said they were not confident they will locate talents with the skills necessary to meet business needs in the year ahead. The skills gap has widened in the last year — up from 36 percent who said the same thing in 2018.

This means most enterprises will struggle to meet their talent needs in the year ahead. But as well as challenges, there are opportunities, especially for key industries enjoying fast growth.

The demand for skilled workers is particularly acute in four fast-growing industries: research and development within innovative technologies, financial services, trade and logistics, and the medical industry. 

R&D in technology lacks data scientists, cloud architects, user interface designers, solution engineers and artificial intelligence professionals. The success of these industries is essential for the Bay Area to become a global technology and innovation hub. 

In financial services, demand is highest for relationship managers who can work cross-boundary within the banking sector. Chinese and international banks based in Guangdong are looking for relationship managers from Hong Kong who can speak Putonghua and are willing to move. They can bring with them their relationships, networks and knowledge to help banks grow their businesses on the mainland. Also in demand are professionals in risk and compliance. 

Hong Kong will be the jewel in the Bay Area crown as an international financial center. It will still be the world’s largest offshore renminbi hub. It will play a crucial role in the growth of the financial sector in the entire Bay Area. 

Exports will remain one of the core economic drivers for the foreseeable future. With the Bay Area being positioned as a key location in the Belt and Road Initiative, trade and logistics will be a key sector and there are going to be unbeatable opportunities for distribution managers, supply chain managers, procurement managers, and logistics experts.

In the medical industries, there is a chronic shortage of medical professionals, doctors, and nurses. China is shifting from relying on emergency room care to networks of general physicians and family practices. With the growth of medical technology, there is growing demand for biopharmaceutical engineers and research engineers. 

Companies in these sectors are seeing acute shortages of skilled workers; they predict an even greater need for talents in the coming years.

The central government has rolled out new tax regulations and policy measures to facilitate the cross-boundary and regional flow of talents — which will weave the Bay Area together and help the region overcome its talent shortage. 

First, new subsidies have been announced to offset higher tax rates for talents from Hong Kong working on the mainland. Subsidies overcome the higher income tax rates on the mainland vis-a-vis Hong Kong. Overseas high-end talents and professionals in short supply will receive subsidies from Guangdong province and the Shenzhen city to offset the differential.

While the government is helping, companies will need to review their pay scales. Employers internationally offer higher salaries, on average, compared with similar roles on the mainland.

Second, policies are being introduced to encourage the freer flow of people across the region. That will ease the visa and travel concerns for multinational employees, and provide more cross-regional opportunities for skilled employees willing to embrace a pan-Bay Area perspective. Senior executives in the tech sector can live in Hong Kong or Macao and work in southern mainland cities, or vice versa. It’s not unusual to see cross-boundary workers filling immigration halls each morning.

Companies also play a key role in realizing free movement across the Bay Area. Pony Ma Huateng, founder and chief executive of Tencent, believes rigid restrictions on the flow of talents in the Bay Area prevented Hong Kong companies from hiring staff from the mainland and has raised the idea of Bay Area ID Card and suggested storing Hong Kong and Macao residents’ Mainland Travel Permit information on mobile phones to give them greater mobility as well as access to services such as mobile payments. 

What we are seeing now is a real demand for trilingual candidates who speak English, Putonghua and Cantonese. They are essential to facilitate cross-boundary cooperation. Eventually the region wants to be more open and able to bring in international talents to support this development — which is happening now. But we are seeing a high demand for returnees who have study and work experience in Western countries. 

And a lot more Hong Kong talents are now more willing to work on the mainland, especially in the innovation and tech sector. Relaxation of boundary controls would encourage more of them to seek career advancement on the mainland. 

Doing so would offer them a competitive edge through upskilling (upgrading one’s work skills and abilities) as they are acquiring a certain experience that makes them more valuable to any employer. 

Shenzhen, for instance, is developing into an innovation hub. If you’re in the tech industry, you will work for the most innovative, exciting, well-funded technology businesses in the world. They will potentially be exposed to the latest cutting-edge technologies. This is going to strengthen your career development and put you ahead of others who are not working in this type of innovative environment. You will gain a very unique experience no other markets can offer. 

The key to the future success of the Bay Area is having a good policy to attract talents. While the government will play its part by offering a helping hand to attract international talents, companies will have to do their bit by reviewing their pay scales and ensuring employees can upskill. Candidates on their part will need to adopt a pan-Bay Area perspective if they want to tap into the many ambitions of the Bay Area to realize their own. The dynamic development of the city cluster offers companies and candidates fantastic opportunities, but also challenges. Both companies and talents will need to ensure they are ahead of the competition curve if they want to leverage the opportunities offered by the Bay Area.

The author is the managing director of an international recruitment firm in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

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