Is China a land of opportunity for HK graduates?

June 27, 2015 08:00
China poses some challenges for overseas graduates, but the opportunities are vast for those willing to take the risk. Photo: Bloomberg

As an academic year ends and a bunch of fresh graduates enter the job market in Hong Kong, there is a significant change in the attitude of the youth on the prospect of working in the mainland.

A survey by the Hong Kong United Youth Association Student Exchange Network suggested that more than two thirds of university graduates wouldn't mind working in mainland China.

This is in contrast to a previous survey conducted in February by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies which showed that only 30.9 percent of young Hongkongers were willing to work across the border.

Nowadays, the mainland attracts job applicants from all over the world, not only from Hong Kong.

Shanghai, for example, has seen its expatriate population rise from 100,000 in 2005 to nearly 170,000 in 2014, according to government figures.

If the mainland has become a popular destination for work, is there room for young graduates from Hong Kong?

Ted Chong, an ExCo member of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce in China, came to Shanghai as an expatriate in 1992. Coming from a background in business consulting with IBM, he shifted to the FMCG sector when he moved to the mainland.

"When I worked in Canada, I thought North America was the center of the world. But I soon realized that the scale of Chinese economy cannot be underestimated," he said.

Chong cited IMF's estimation of US$17.6 trillion for the size of the Chinese economy last year, and the view that it overtook the United States as the world’s largest economy in terms of purchaing power parity.

To date, Chong is running a retail business in China. His company Designer Times is a distributor of luxury watches with a focus on Swiss watches.

His Hong Kong origin gives him more credibility, especially when dealing with foreign partners, he says.

"The tag of 'Hong Kong entrepreneur' tends to give a good impression, as we are perceived as being reliable and trustworthy," he explained.

While entrepreneur Chong is full of optimism, HR specialist Anne Ng takes a conservative view when asked if there is room for young talents from Hong Kong in the mainland's job market.

In her capacity as a senior partner of Taplow Longitude Management Consulting, she observed that foreign companies in China now prefer locals to overseas candidates, especially in filling junior positions.

"Many candidates from Hong Kong believe they deserve better salary than locals. And yet, in the eyes of employers, salary is based on competence rather than where you come from. It is hard for fresh graduates from Hong Kong to build their case," she said.

As of the fourth quarter of 2014, Shanghai ranked top among China’s major cities in term of average salary (5,891 yuan), followed by Beijing (5,796 yuan) and Shenzhen (5,302 yuan), according to online recruitment website

Meanwhile, the latest bi-annual cost of living survey by ECA International suggested that Shanghai tops Asia as the most expensive city in Asia for expats, followed by Beijing in the second place. Among other Chinese cities, Guangzhou was in the fifth place.

Despite low average salary and high cost of living, a recent Hong Kong graduate, Kate Leung, decided to take up an offer from her previous internship employer in Shanghai.

"Some peers of mine are reluctant to come and work here because of anti-mainland sentiments. But for me, business is business. I value this opportunity as a gateway to understand how to do business in China," she said.

Working in a new place is never easy. This message is universal but it is particularly true for fresh graduates, who have no substantial work experience and very few professional contacts.

Leung admitted that she did not see much advantage of being a Hongkonger in the mainland’s job market.

As she put it: "Many young professionals, including the emerging generation of 'sea turtles' are very competitive.. They have better access to the local business community through family and alumni networks."

As the saying goes, everybody has to start somewhere. It resonates with entrepreneur Chong.

"The biggest advantage of a young person is the 'nothing to lose' mentality. If you believe in China's long-term growth story, this is still a good time to come," he said, advising young people not to let go of potential opportunities due to fear of perceived challenges.

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