Hong Kong needs a new approach to talent

March 27, 2023 09:22
Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong has arrived at a critical juncture for its talent market and its economic future. Due to several factors that include the pandemic, emigration, and an ageing population, Hong Kong has a pronounced shortage of skilled workforce in a wide range of essential jobs. At the same time, technological developments now offer a much more efficient and dynamic use of human capital than was previously possible. The question is: will we continue down the pre-pandemic path, or will we modernise our approach?

If the recent budget is any indication, the city seems to be moving in the right direction. In addition to a renewed focus on bolstering the tech sector, the financial secretary specifically mentioned human resources support as part of the city’s digital economy drive. Hopefully, this indicates a deep recognition of the revolution in the world of work which is opening up new possibilities and greater levels of productivity.

Multiple challenges

The government is fully aware of the current skills shortage and brain drain, and has adopted measures to encourage fresh inflows of overseas talent. The city faces the problem of significant numbers of trained professionals leaving the workforce earlier than anticipated, whether due to emigration or early retirement. Even before the “Great Resignation”, business leaders were already warning about a lack of talent to refill existing roles. More and more companies are now finding it challenging to attract new hires and retain existing expertise.

Hong Kong faces an added hurdle of its own making: rigid traditional work structures. In many companies, managers and HR teams envision a single-track career path for each employee, while in some cases no substantive consideration is given to career development at all. Too often, employees who want to broaden their skill-set or aim for some eminently achievable goal are forced to jump ship just in order to advance their careers. This kind of managerial myopia is bad for morale and greatly increases turnover rate, especially among younger workers.

New approaches, new technologies

Put simply, companies need to learn who their employees are and what they want to achieve. Joined-up thinking is also required to identify the necessary skillsets for business transformation. More fundamentally, they need a new framework for thinking about talent to adapt to the future.

Firstly, companies must shift their HR focus to skills instead of years of experience. This approach allows companies not only to think more strategically about their goals, but also to discover hidden skills and experience among their existing employees (and even in interview candidates). Recognising employees’ hidden strengths allows firms to match up existing workers with upcoming positions, thus offering credible pathways for career development. Fortunately, new software tools have made this much more straightforward than in the past.

Secondly, companies can start mapping out training and career pathways more effectively to facilitate personal growth. AI and machine learning allow managers to visualise and plan multiple potential career paths for each employee and see how each pathway ties in with the overall corporate strategy.

Thirdly, employers need to hear what their staff are telling them. Again, cutting-edge mechanisms enable an environment of transparency where staff can both share opinions and stay in touch with strategic priorities.

With these initiatives, there will be a systematic effort to understand employees, which in turn can deliver data-driven insights that illuminate unexpected synergies and winning strategies, both at the corporate level and potentially for the city as a whole. This kind of intelligence is critical on two fronts: to give Hong Kong the edge it needs in terms of talent, and to achieve the long-held goal of putting the city at the forefront of tech development.

Vision of Hong Kong’s future

If business leaders make the right choices now, Hong Kong can propel itself to the forefront of a competitive global talent market. Our city has a bright future within reach: smart hiring, menial tasks taken over by AI, hidden skills identified, and sector needs pinpointed – with firms now able to access relevant data insights and relay them to partner institutions when needed. Crucially, people will be more fully valued for their skills and have the freedom to upskill or transition across roles with greater flexibility.

Hong Kong’s value goes far beyond being a duty-free port. At its high points, this city has been a knowledge centre, a leading light of new efficiencies, and a hub for global talent. It can once again be so. With a forward-thinking roadmap at the government and business level, we can launch our city into a new era of effective talent management and smart productivity.

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General Manager, Greater China, Workday