Blue­print mapped to cre­ate more jobs in IT in­dus­try

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - ROUNDTABLE - By OSWALD CHAN in Hong Kong oswald@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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.

Chang­ing mind­set

“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

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