Hong Kong authorities and universities are ramping up efforts to augment the city’s technology talent pool and meet the labor market’s growing demand.

The special administrative region’s goal of becoming an international innovation and technology hub has made innovative applications an inevitable trend.

Apart from the digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, Hong Kong’s heavy investment in the innovation and technology sector — with the SAR government creating official bodies, improving regulatory systems, and incubating startups and entrepreneurs — also increase the need for technically talented individuals.

Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, director of the ACE Centre for Business and Economic Research, said Hong Kong’s culture of innovation and technology is still in its infancy, and more university graduates are needed to build up that soft power.

In this year’s Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination — the local university entrance exam — none of the top eight students said they intend to study technology-related subjects, with medical courses remaining their favorite picks.

Zhou Xiaofang — chair professor of computer science and engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology — believes that Hong Kong has distinct advantages in nurturing innovative minds, given the city’s top-notch tertiary education level.

According to the 2022 QS World University Rankings, five Hong Kong universities are among the world’s top 100 tertiary education institutions.

More incentives needed

Last year, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology rolled out “major + AI”, a tech-related academic framework, to help young blood keep abreast with cutting-edge artificial intelligence applications that have been widely used in the workplace.

The City University of Hong Kong spent HK$500 million ($63.7 million) on its innovation and entrepreneurship program, “HK Tech 300”, to incubate 300 startups in three years by offering training programs and venture capital.

Other universities, including the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, have also introduced various initiatives to help tech talents integrate into the city’s robust innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Praising the efforts Hong Kong has made in the past few years, Zhou said one way to beef up the local talent pool is to offer more funding to universities to raise the student intake.

“In view of the popularity of our master’s program in big-data technology, our admission has been very competitive, and this would have let go of many outstanding applicants who may go to other parts of the world,” Zhou said, adding that a moderate increase in the acceptance rate may be considered to retain talents and align with the development of Hong Kong’s tech-driven trend.

Joe Qin, dean of the School of Data Science at the City University of Hong Kong, said the priority now is to retain talented technical minds and resolve the talent shortage amid the growing labor demand from tech companies.

Qin said more efforts should be made to create a favorable environment for the fast-growing high-tech sector, such as increasing benefit packages and streamlining the approval process in applications for technological funds. “These will make Hong Kong a more attractive place for both homegrown and overseas tech talents, and can thus fill the evolving market needs.”