Blueprint mapped to create more jobs in IT industry
Hong Kong has the platform to develop big data analysis, integration and adoption technology and this should boost IT talent demand.”
Hong Kong’s government, business community and academia must brace themselves for the challenges in recruiting talents for the new technology era, a forum in Hong Kong was told.
Solutions must also be found to tackle the obstacles in the informationtechnology job market, including skills mismatch, a wrong perception of the IT industry, as well as a huge salary disparity and gender imbalance, industry experts said at a roundtable conference on Dec 9.
At the roundtable, held by recruitment service provider Recruit, and coorganized by the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) and China Daily Hong Kong, government officials, industry players and university administrators exchanged views on rolling out a blueprint to stimulate employment in the IT industry.
Hong Kong has the ingredients and the environment to nurture the development of a high value-added technological sector that can create a more promising job market for IT professionals, panelists told the forum on job recruitment in the IT industry.
The supply-demand dynamics of labor in the IT sector is clearly unbalanced and is jeopardizing long-term strategic manpower planning.
According to Vocational Training Council estimates, more than 90,000 IT professionals would be needed in 2018, and the industry would have to recruit 4,800 new graduates annually over the next four years. In 2014, IT professionals accounted for 2.15 percent of Hong Kong’s total workforce, compared with 1.78 percent the previous year.
However, it’s projected that the supply of IT workers will not be able to cope with market demand. Recent data from the Census and Statistics Department showed that the number of graduates under the University Grants Committee’s subsidized IT courses has fallen consistently since 2004. Recently, the number of graduates dropped to an average of 2,000 people each year.
The panelists reckoned that recruiting talents in the IT industry is fraught with obstacles, with skills mismatch being a common phenomenon.
“The technology cycle of the industry is getting increasingly shorter and at a rapid pace, so IT workers are finding it harder to adapt to an even shorter cycle,” said Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung. “Industry practitioners need to understand the job skills mismatch and find ways to resolve the problem.”
“The rapid depreciation rate of knowledge in the IT industry has propelled industry practitioners to apply the generic concepts they had learned in school within a very short time span. Our company has strived to build up communities for training new staff,” said Stark Chan Yik-hei, chief executive officer and founder of Bull B Tech, a technology startup in Hong Kong that provides application solutions.
The local community also has a wrong perception of the IT industry and this is hindering labor recruitment.
“Most university undergraduates don’t understand the real working environment of the IT industry. Actually, many jobs in IT companies do not merely involve computer programming,” reckoned Horace Chow Chokkee, general manager at Microsoft Hong Kong.
He said that after conducting recruitment exercises in universities, more
IT students who want to be employed in IT jobs of (financial institutions) should study minor subjects, such as accounting.”
graduates can fully understand the job nature of the IT industry and then decide whether or not to join.
“IT companies need to enhance industry transparency so that parents and students understand the realities of this job segment. After understanding it, parents and students may change their perceptions of the industry and be more willing to join the industry,” Chow said.
The huge income disparity in the IT industry is the third impediment in talent recruitment.
“Due to the job skills mismatch, some IT professionals are drawing high salaries while some others at the low-end spectrum only earn a mean wage as low as HK$14,000 a month,” Legislative Councilor (Information Technology) Charles Mok Nai-kwong noted.
“Those IT workers are trapped in a vicious career cycle — they’re earning low wages and yet have to use their money to keep up professional training lest they will be made redundant.”
“The government should provide bridging measures to support enterprises in recruiting more people and offer affordable training to IT workers trapped in this vicious cycle,” Mok said.
“The traditional IT networking technology that requires less sophisticated IT knowledge explains the sluggish salary growth in this segment. The small technology market in Hong Kong is also another factor,” said Stephen Ho Wai-chung, chief executive officer at CITIC Telecom International CPC Ltd — a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed CITIC Telecom International Holdings.
Fierce market competition from other industries in labor recruitment has further exacerbated the labor supplydemand imbalance in the IT industry.
“In North America, the top university graduates are engineering students who normally earn an average of $80,000 to $100,000 annually. In Hong Kong, most of the top students usually enroll in courses like business management, law or medicine that impede the supply of IT talents, hence pushing up salary levels,” said Sunny Lee Waikwong, vice-president (administration) at City University of Hong Kong.
Currently, local IT employers have to pay HK$18,000 to HK$20,000 a month to hire IT fresh graduates, while the salaries of data analysts have reached HK$30,000. It’s even harder to recruit talents in the field of cyber security.
Since 2012, the ratio of IT professionals earning between HK$600,001 and HK$1.08 million annually had climbed from 4.7 percent to 9.1 percent in 2014, according to market data.
The IT industry also exhibits a strong trend of gender imbalance whereas males account for the bulk of manpower in the industry. According to market estimates, 88 percent of IT directors of 57 enterprises interviewed in Hong Kong are males, while female IT workers make up less than 10 percent of the surveyed companies’ workforce.
There’s also the perception that males are usually engaged in IT programming, but the trend is gradually chang- ing. “Five years ago, females accounted for 20 percent of the company’s job positions but the ratio has now risen to 40 percent,” Chow noted.
“We sponsor training for our female staff, but sometimes they refuse to take up more training. The young generation should change their mindset to embrace career change,” said Ho.
“The industry needs to give more permanent job positions to get females to stay with the industry,” Mok suggested. “Most of the female IT workers prefer a stable job environment as they need to take care of their families.”
To deal with the impediments that hinder the hiring of talents, panelists at the roundtable agreed that stakeholders should do more at the training and corporate levels to stimulate employment.
To begin with, Hong Kong should reform its educational system to include more blended training that’s a prerequisite for cultivating IT talents.
“IT education training should endow students with a skills set that can be applied across the board. Those generic skills include communication, problemsolving and business negotiation to enhance students’ employability,” said HKMA Executive Director Victor Lee Sze-kuen, moderator of the conference.
Govt-industry cooperation urged
“Banks and other financial institutions demand their IT employees should have some basic knowledge of finance and accounting. IT students who want to be employed in IT jobs of these organizations should study minor subjects, such as accounting,” added Michael Leung Kin-man, president of the Hong Kong Computer Society.
For pure IT support functions, banks and financial institutions would outsource these jobs to third-party service providers. Pure IT support functions are no longer the high value-added segment in the whole value chain of the IT industry.
“The government will do more to promote blended skill learning at schools and universities, but companies should also play their part in IT manpower training. Both parties should work together to facilitate intelligent trial to improve technology education and training,” Yang envisaged.
Hong Kong’s startup companies can also play a part in facilitating IT manpower planning.
According to InvestHK — the government’s direct investment promotion agency — there were 1,926 startups employing 5,229 people so far this year, showing increases of 24 percent and 41 percent, respectively, from a year ago.
“At Hong Kong Science Park, our job fairs enable 100 startups to hire 300 people successfully,” Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp Chief Executive Officer Albert Wong Hakkeung said.
Jason Chiu Tsz-yu, chief executive officer at Cherrypicks — the city’s mobile marketing and e-commerce service provider — said his company is willing to take up the task of IT staff training. “Big enterprises are partnering with local companies to train IT staff. We accept the fact that we’ve got to do our work in training employees.”
“We recruit 20 to 30 local undergraduates with excellent presentation skills as interns, whereas 90 percent of them are studying at local universities. Last year, we recruited some employees who are not IT students. Interns should not treat this as an internship, but as a full-time job,” Chow said.
Lee added that the mindset of IT firms can go forward as to share the employment information regarding IT staff recruitment with other peer companies.
Besides incubating startups, more overseas corporations establishing their presence in Hong Kong can also be tapped to bolster IT employment.
“As more global companies set up their regional headquarters in the city, it means there’ll be more exposure in IT job training,” said Catherine So Kawoon, North East Asia general manager at Expedia — a US-based online travel website offering various solutions and packages.
Currently, Expedia operates in 33 countries and regions, but has yet to set up its IT support functions in Hong Kong. Instead, it has located its IT support divisions in India, Shenzhen and Singapore, plus engineering support offices in London and the United States.
“The establishment of an IT support division in Singapore propels the company to recruit talents in the areas of sales and marketing, corporate finance, legal, digital marketing and e-commerce in the Lion City,” So said.
Mok also urged the Hong Kong government to consider granting tax incentives to get more companies to expand in Hong Kong.
“Currently, enterprises do not recruit local staff for some specific IT job segments in the city. When enterprises do not come to Hong Kong, it will exert a vicious cycle that some IT jobs will not be created. We got to know at what stage we need to invigorate our startup ecosystem to foster recruitment.”
The panelists also identified a few IT job segments that exhibit burgeoning demand for IT talents in the near future.
“Information security and cloud computing will be the top spots for IT staff hiring. After working for former employers in just three months, the professionals in the above two IT segments can negotiate a 200-percent salary hike,” Ho elaborated.
(The government and the industry) should work together to facilitate intelligent trial to improve technology education and training.” The Hong Kong government should consider granting tax incentives to allure more companies to expand in Hong Kong.” As more global companies set up their regional headquarters in the city, it means there’ll be more exposure in IT job training.” Big enterprises are partnering with local companies to train IT staff. We accept the fact that we’ve got to do our work in training employees.” IT companies need to enhance industry transparency so that parents and students understand the realities of this job segment.” The rapid depreciation rate of knowledge in the IT industry has propelled industry practitioners to apply the generic concepts they had learned in school within a very short time span.” At Hong Kong Science Park, our job fairs enable 100 startups to hire 300 people successfully.” The traditional IT networking technology that requires less sophisticated IT knowledge explains the sluggish salary growth in this segment.”
Creating favorable environment
Aging, robotics, financial technology and smart city devices will be the four main technological developments in Hong Kong, Yang noted. Talents for Internet of Things, data analysis and storage and artificial intelligence, as well as virtual reality, are also in tremendous demand.
“Hong Kong has the platform to develop big data analysis, integration and adoption technology and this should boost IT talent demand,” Sunny Lee said.
In retrospect, panelists concurred that the government, the business community and academia should work together to create a more favorable environment for IT professional hiring.
“The level of employment policy is too general. The government can leverage flexibility to look at specific cases on how to stimulate employment in this segment,” Sunny Lee said.
“What’s paramount is that the government should get the right timing and strike the right balance to create market opportunities for promoting IT talent development,” Yang reiterated.
Michael Leung Kin-man, president of the Hong Kong Computer Society Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, secretary for innovation and technology Charles Mok Nai-kwong, legislative councilor (information technology) Catherine So Ka-woon, North East Asia general manager at Expedia Jason Chiu Tsz-yu, chief executive officer at Cherrypicks Horace Chow Chok-kee, general manager at Microsoft Hong Kong Stark Chan Yik-hei, chief executive officer and founder of Bull B Tech Albert Wong Hak-keung, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp chief executive officer
Panelists and guests pose for a group photo at the IT talentsthemed roundtable conference, co-organized by Recruit, the Hong Kong Management Association and China Daily Hong Kong, on Dec 9.
Sunny Lee Wai-kwong, vice-president (administration) at City University of Hong Kong
Stephen Ho Wai-chung, chief executive officer at CITIC Telecom International CPC Ltd