High time to power up
The growth of the digital, cloud computing and telecommunication sectors has secured Hong Kong a prime spot on the list of the world's most technology-enabled cities, but such advances have also fuelled a ravenous demand for talent.
The SAR was ranked eighth out of 148 countries in the World Economic Forum's Network Readiness Index, which measures how well economies use information and communications technology (ICT) to boost competitiveness and well-being.
However, while Hong Kong has been at the forefront of high-end technological development, attracting fresh talent to join the industry is a major challenge.
"Many young people prefer to join the financial, medical or legal industries, where they believe they will receive high remuneration and have plenty of career opportunities," says Ted Suen, vice-president of talent cultivation at the Hong Kong Computer Society (HKCS).
Suen explains that to raise the profile of the ICT sector, the HKCS highlights examples of tech company successes such as Google, Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba. "Although we haven't seen a Tencent or Google yet [from Hong Kong], there are a number of successful Hong Kong tech companies making their presence known in the international marketplace," he says.
HKCS conducts career talks at secondary schools and universities to encourage young people to consider a career in the ICT industry. "We point out how the ICT industry allows people to work with new ideas and express their creativity," Suen says. "We need to persuade parents, who often have a major influence over their children's career choices, that ICT offers both an exciting and financially rewarding career."
Suen explains that the integration of new technology with business processes is creating a wealth of opportunities for both fresh graduates and people already in the IT industry who are looking to advance their careers. While new ICT roles are being created, however, it is important that ICT professionals broaden their communication skills and fully understand the enterprise sectors they work in.
"It doesn't matter if it is banking and finance or manufacturing, these days ICT people no longer work in isolation, sat at their computer screens punching in code," Suen says. Instead, they are more likely to be working closely with business units such as marketing, HR and finance, or working as part of a team to help improve productivity.
To keep up to date with current trends, Suen recommends that industry practitioners consider attending continuing-education courses and industry-related seminars and workshops. They can also join HKCS to receive industry updates and join activities. "There are plenty of opportunities for existing talent to upgrade their skill levels and keep their knowledge relevant," he says.
Internships are an invaluable source of insights for those interested in joining the industry, he adds. "Most of Hong Kong's ICT companies offer internships where young people can gain hands-on experience and get a feel for the areas they might like to work in."
Ian Strutton, director of Experis Hong Kong, says that because of the way technology is merging with business operations, employers are looking for ICT professionals with the flexibility to adapt their technical skills while growing in other areas. "We see cases where employers reject candidates because they have the right level of technical experience and abilities, but lack the business knowledge or communication skills."
Strutton has also seen jobseekers turn down employment opportunities at companies that use outdated software or treat the ICT function as a support role, rather than an integrated component of the business. "A lot of job candidates don't want to join a company where they see few opportunities for advancing their career," he says.
A recent survey by Experis parent company ManpowerGroup showed that an ICT talent shortage is a major concern for employers. Strutton says that Hong Kong's growing number of data centres and cloud services providers are siphoning up available talent. "Employers are struggling to fill nuts-and-bolts junior system analyst positions," he says.
Equally challenging for some employers is how companies recruit and retain Gen Y employees. Strutton says that by 2025, Gen Y - who he describes as those aged between 19 and 31 today - will account for about 70 per cent of the workforce. Companies that fail to implement Gen Y recruitment and retention strategies are likely to feel some "pain points".
"Gen Y working in IT are incredibly tech-savvy, ambitious, impatient, and yet tremendously passionate about what they do … [but they] are not looking for parent figures," he says. Employers should offer mentoring, set goal-based objectives and offer a clearly defined career path. Companies that provide Gen Y employees room to develop stand a better chance of successful engagement and generating productivity from their employees.
With ICT playing an increasing key role across industries and day-to-day activities, experts in the field have welcomed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's proposed plans for an Innovation and Technology Bureau, which is expected to further strengthen Hong Kong's ICT landscape.
Martin Kessler, a mentor with the Founder Institute, which offers support and training to technology entrepreneurs, believes Hong Kong has the potential to become Asia's technology start-up hub. "I believe we are at the beginning of an interesting phase," he says.
Kessler, also the founder of Hong Kong-based start-up Phonejoy Solutions, says Hong Kong is in an ideal position to capitalise on several areas. These include the technology to support the city's global financial activities, software that supports cross-border mainland operations, and healthcare and environmental technology.
"Hong Kong, with its cosmopolitan, East-meets-West environment and sound infrastructure, is well-positioned to achieve a start-up tipping point, but for it to work requires real commitment from government and the business sector," Kessler says.
However, before rushing headlong into launching a new business, Kessler recommends university graduates and those who have recently joined the tech industry to gain as much experience as they can as employees. "People really need the on-the-job experience that working for a good employer provides to learn the necessary business ropes," he says.