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An 'X' mark for Generations Y and Z

A new survey shows that Generation Y employees in Hong Kong lack the skills needed to drive the city’s economy forward, with most respondents blaming the education system. The most pressing areas for improvement for Gen Y are their work attitude, a sense of responsibility and interpersonal communication skills.

In a survey by professional accounting organisation CPA Australia, among 273 respondents from across the business community, 54.9 per cent said that members of Hong Kong’s Gen Y are not well-equipped with the right technical and soft skills to sustain and drive the city’s growth.

Survey respondents emphasised the importance of developing key soft skills such as logical thinking, communication, management and leadership as opposed to specific technical skills, says Peter Lee, divisional deputy president for Greater China at CPA Australia.

“These skills are applicable across all industries but the important point here is that these skills are required at middle- and upper-management level, which is where the Gen Y will be moving to en masse in the coming years, thus driving Hong Kong’s economy,” he says.

The lack of adequate communication skills is a particular cause for concern, adds Lee. “Communication is highly important in any organisation, whether you are dealing with your superior, managing your subordinates or talking to your clients,” he says.

No fewer than 55.7 per cent of respondents feel the education system fails to equip Gen Z – those born in the early 1990s to 2000 – with practical skills needed in the workplace.
Lee says that problem-solving skills are critical for success in today’s complex business environment, and should be cultivated from an early age.

“There appears to be an unbalanced emphasis on academic success in Hong Kong that can come at the cost of a real-life skill set that includes interpersonal skills, practical knowledge and a sense of responsibility,” says Lee.

“Qualitative data from survey respondents highlighted the pedagogy common in Hong Kong that involves a spoon-fed-type teaching method, which puts emphasis on rote learning as opposed to learning the meaning of content. This is not just due to Hong Kong’s curriculum but is commonly accepted across society.”

Academic excellence alone is no longer a guarantee of success. Current and future generations will need to acquire and master a much broader skill set than the one traditionally taught in classrooms, suggests Lee.

“There is doubtless an abundance of gifted students, but in the real world, that’s only half the battle. Successful staff must manage relationships, lead teams, think practically and show common sense. The curriculum should take a holistic view, integrating students into real work situations to better prepare them and manage their expectations.”

A total of 54.9 per cent of respondents said that it is currently difficult to recruit candidates with the right skills. The skills that are lacking include logical thinking and decision-making, communication, and management and leadership. Although employers see many qualified prospective employees, it is these key skills that differentiate some from the rest of the pack, putting them ahead of others in their career, says Lee.

Respondents said that Gen Y employees needed to improve their sense of responsibility (71.8 per cent), work attitude (63 per cent) and interpersonal communication skills (61.9 per cent).

Work-life balance has become the most important issue for employees, overtaking traditional favourites such as pay and future prospects. The top three reasons that employees liked their jobs were a good work-life balance (44.3 per cent), suitable remuneration (40.3 per cent) and good career prospects (28.2 per cent).

In contrast, long working hours were the reason most employees were unhappy with their jobs (31.5 per cent), followed by lack of benefits and incentive programmes (30.4 per cent) and a stressful working environment (29.7 per cent). Poor pay came sixth at 23.8 per cent.

Gen Y employees need to learn to manage expectations in accordance with the realities of working life, says Lee.

“The work attitude that Gen Ys exhibit revolves around a work-life balance and an [unrealistic] expectation of salary, promotion and workload,” he says. “The desire for a work-life balance is healthy, but then at the same time, expectations need to be managed. Some attributes, such as a sense of responsibility, should start at primary-school level, and from the family upbringing.”

The age of respondents played a notable part in distinguishing between those planning to change jobs and those who had no such plans. Gen Y respondents – those aged between 23 and 32 – were more than twice as likely as older respondents to seek new positions. Fifty-five per cent those aged 23 to 32 expect to change jobs in the next six months, while only 27 per cent of those aged 33 or more plan to move.

Lee says Gen Y is aware of the gaps in their skill sets.

“I think that more and more Gen Ys are acknowledging the importance of these skills and are adapting accordingly, which is taking time as opposed to hitting the ground running,” he says. “In my opinion, prospective employees become attractive when they can communicate effectively, think independently and demonstrate a sense of responsibility.”

CPA Australia is proposing a scheme to offer opportunities to third-level students to integrate into the workplace environment under a sustainable long-term mentorship scheme, and an Academic and Business Taskforce to build long-term collaboration between schools, academic institutions and business entities.

“The skills gained from this integration are important because essentially, this generation will be driving Hong Kong’s economy and the current drivers of the economy have highlighted these soft skills as an area to work on,” says Lee.

“The young generations are creative and technical-savvy because they grew up in the internet age. It is an invaluable resource for innovation and creativity. If employers improve their communication with Gen Y, understand their strengths, and put them in suitable positions with the appropriate incentives and guidance, they can work very well and contribute immensely to their companies.”