Guests speak at Insight Forum: Hong Kong Way Forward — The Future of Hong Kong as a Global Talent Hub, on Oct 27, 2022. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Hong Kong was complacent for decades about its allure to international professionals, but then COVID-19 dealt that allure a ferocious blow.
Bernard Charnwut Chan, executive vice-chairman of Our Hong Kong Foundation, said on Thursday that the city is still attractive to outside talent, but it has to review its glory story and rewrite its future narrative , signaling to the world, “We need top-notch talents to come here!”
Bernard Charnwut Chan, executive vice-chairman of Our Hong Kong Foundation, said on Thursday that the city is still attractive to outside talent, but it has to review its glory story and rewrite its future narrative , signaling to the world, “We need top-notch talents to come here”
“Now we are in a war for talent. Countries and regions all around the world have been making unprecedented efforts to groom and attract talents. We cannot risk falling behind,” Chan said.
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Chan, who also is the chairman and president of Asia Financial Holdings Ltd, was the keynote speaker at Insight Forum: Hong Kong Way Forward — The Future of Hong Kong as a Global Talent Hub. Our Hong Kong Foundation hosted the event.
In some ways, Hong Kong has had the luxury of flaunting its well-coveted treasure trove of highly skilled and enterprising immigrants from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, which, when coupled with Hong Kong’s geopolitical edge, transformed Hong Kong into an international financial center, Chan said.
This is, however, a relic of glittering history, and Hong Kong now is compelled to scout for fresh blood to rejuvenate its deflated economy and staid industries, he said.
“We find ourselves in a bottleneck of economic growth. To develop emerging industries, such as technology, innovation, and art, and even such traditional sectors as finance, relies on new talent and skills to model brand-new growth engines, such as fintech blockchains,” Chan said. And even the ESG (environmental, social and governance) system, the new kid on the block, has found itself suffering a severe recruitment shortage, he added.
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“Is Hong Kong written off?” is a question Chan has repeatedly been asked recently. His answer is an absolute “no”, he said. Hong Kong’s peerless advantages — including a low and simple tax rate, a business-friendly environment, and easy access to higher education — remain intact. But Hong Kong has to face up to some disconcerting figures: Since the city’s appeal to foreign professionals has dropped over the years, from fifth in the world in 2016 to 26th in 2021, a year-on-year net outflow of 95,000 people in mid-2022 was registered; this is the third consecutive year of a net population outflow, during which Hong Kong has had a collective outflow of around 200,000 people.
The raw alarming figures are enough to force Hong Kong to sit up and take notice — and to act, he said.
While many countries and cities have introduced talent recruitment programs, lavishing global professionals with visas and subsidiary perks, Hong Kong needs to catch up and be more “aggressive”, Chan said.
Admittedly, Hong Kong has had a talent-attraction program in place, but its current iteration is not broad enough in terms of the talent categories, not generous enough in terms of support, and its response to the massive brain drain has been slow, he said.
What can Hong Kong do to make up for lost time, and up the chances to garner the best talent?
Chan’s answer is to leverage Hong Kong’s regional proximity to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and beyond to attract ambitious regional talent looking to expand their horizons. “There’s reportedly an oversupply of graduates seeking jobs, especially for the tech industries, which could prove to be an opportunity for us,” he said.
Bernard Charnwut Chan, executive vice-chairman of Our Hong Kong Foundation, speaks at Insight Forum: Hong Kong Way Forward — The Future of Hong Kong as a Global Talent Hub, on Oct 27, 2022. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHIAN DAILY)
“We should build a regional ecosystem of cross-border applications, spanning visas and taxations alongside mutual recognition of qualification, in order to remove the obstacles that talent currently must jump through to get their licenses or certificates recognized across the border.”
Diana Cesar, executive director and chief executive of Hang Seng Bank Ltd, said enhancing Hong Kong’s appeal to attract fresh blood is just part of the story.
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The reality is there is a great challenge, acknowledged Cesar. “There is a drain in very many ways, and that’s probably because of the netting-off effect, that you don’t get as many coming back in.
“But let’s focus on how we can move forward in terms of future scaling our colleagues, those of us who actually have been in the industry for long,” she said.
Her firsthand everyday experience, in which she absorbs new information such as ESG and fintech, and learns the rope of new skills from her colleagues, points her to a rosy picture of the future in which existing employees equipped with up-to-date skills and competence navigate distraught companies through bottlenecks and progress along.
Daisy Yiyou Wang, deputy director of curatorial and programming of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, offered more food for thought, suggesting that amid the dire talent deficiency, Hong Kong talent recruitment policies and companies should be more open-minded, forgoing the notion of meritocracy. “Transferrable skills” should take its pride of place today, and “diversity” of backgrounds and skill sets will be embraced to bring a “mosaic” of talent to Hong Kong, Wang said.