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Tale of two competing cities

Published on Friday, 17 Sep 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
Singapore’s six-month workholiday visa allows young graduates to stay in the city and look for jobs, whereas Hong Kong’s policy is more rigid.
Photo: AP

The answer to the question of whether to work in Singapore or Hong Kong seems obvious. Singapore has been the most competitive city in Asia for two consecutive years, and assumes third place in the recent World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report. Hong Kong ranks 11th.

The survey is based on "12 pillars of competitiveness", such as infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, education and training, market size, business sophistication and innovation. Switzerland tops the list, trailed by Sweden. The mainland ranks 27th.

However, Professor Steve Dekrey, director of masters programmes at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, thinks Hong Kong has its perks as the financial hub in Asia, and is more competitive than Singapore in terms of business size, availability of the talent pool and proximity to the mainland.

Singapore - known as the hub of technology and innovation in Asia - is more progressive in attracting young talent. Its six-month work-holiday visa allows young graduates to stay in the city and look for jobs. A more stringent visa policy is in place in Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong is more rigid. We have our own policy for our graduates" Dekrey says. "Singapore offers more opportunities to young people."

He says Hong Kong has to brush up its immigration and relocation policy to be more competitive in recruitment. Cathy Loose, Asia-Pacific global mobility sales leader for Mercer's information product solutions business, says that based on her company's calculations, Singapore ranks fourth in Asia, behind Tokyo, Osaka and Hong Kong in the cost of living, and first in quality of living.

But companies in Singapore are shying away from traditional expatriate packages. While key expatriates continue to enjoy traditional packages, organisations are looking into cost-effective options for international assignments such as local plus package.

"It is a reduced package that is paid in local salary, but with some expatriate elements that are being retained such as housing and educational allowances," Loose says.

"We expect that this trend will continue in the coming years."

Money aside, moving to Singapore could be an attractive option.

"In general, the pace of life is faster in Hong Kong. Singapore is perceived to be more 'relaxed'," says TY Lee, manager for front office division at Robert Walters Hong Kong, who relocated from Singapore.

"People tend to be more direct and straightforward in communication. One of the key differences will be language. The local Singaporeans tend to speak English even among themselves in the workplace whereas the local Chinese in Hong Kong tend to speak Cantonese in the workplace."

He adds that as an international financial hub, Singaporean employers' hiring preferences would be similar to those in Hong Kong. Candidates with strong technical skills, good qualifications and good interpersonal skills are sought.

Seems it wouldn't hurt to check out the recruitment market in Singapore.

Choose your hub

  • Remuneration: Hong Kong has always been more competitive especially in financial services, but Singapore has caught up recently.
  • Exposure: Both are important regional financial hubs, housing many regional head offices of multinational firms.
  • Quality of life: Singapore is more attractive to families because of better education and environment; Hong Kong is seen as more vibrant and lively.

 Advice from Robert Walters


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