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Young, wild and restless

Published on Friday, 26 Aug 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

Reports that Hong Kong youths seem to be dissatisfied with their career development prospects could be a sign of their characteristic impatience. If true, it will do more damage than good to their careers.

A recent telephone survey of 816 local residents conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia Pacific Studies (HKIAPS) of the Chinese University of Hong Kong indicated the city's young employees think there are fewer chances for career development today than there were for the previous generation.

The respondents were divided into three age groups: 18-30, 31-50, and over 51, numbering 437, 315 and 46, respectively. Overall, the 18-30 age group appeared more discontented than the others with their career prospects.

Asked whether Hong Kong provided adequate opportunities for career development compared with those available for the previous generations, 55.7 per cent of respondents aged 18-30 said they were inadequate, while 24.3 per cent said opportunities remained the same. Only 17.9 per cent found it hard to tell the difference.

In general, 55.1 per cent of all respondents said they enjoyed a better standard of living than the previous generations, while 45.8 per cent believed they are worse off than their parents in terms of career opportunities.

Commenting on the findings, Ian Strutton, director of human resources firm Manpower Professional, says the results may indicate a well-known mismatch between the expectations of young employees and the demands of the job market.

"I don't think there is a lack of opportunities. In fact, they have grown," he says, adding that organisations that had moved functions to countries with cheaper workforces such as Malaysia and India retrained employees who had lost their jobs. He also cited growing job opportunities in emerging regions such as northern China.

"But the lack of patience is a well-documented characteristic of these young employees. They want to have early promotions. They need to exercise patience on the job, and stay and perform in that job and demonstrate their contribution to the organisation," Strutton says.

He notes there is a difference in the career paths between every generation of youths and their parents. Previous generations had a job for life and worked about 10 to 15 years in an organisation. In contrast, there is increased career mobility today and young candidates are more loyal to their profession than to the company. However, they need to be patient, Strutton says. They should try to hold on to their jobs and prove that they are an asset to their employers, even as they develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which are essential if they want to get ahead in their careers. 

"Clearly, in any country, the educational system takes you up to a certain point, but then you go into the commercial world and start your first job where there is a whole range of skills you need to develop," Strutton says. "If you take critical thinking skills, the educational system can teach you that up to a certain degree, but it's only when you are really working for a company that you develop and refine those skills in a working environment."

He says young employees need to develop such skills while their employers have to provide opportunities. "In time, say, two years, if that employee doesn't see opportunities in that organisation, then he can plan his next career move," says Strutton.

"It is important not to change jobs so quickly. Sometimes, I see candidates who move jobs regularly. I have seen candidates who have stayed in a job for four months and moved to another for six months. To do that is a disadvantage to that candidate's ability to progress in his career," he adds.

HKIAPS spokesman Professor Stephen Law says the survey was an exploratory study of social mobility in Hong Kong and had not probed specifics. Its primary focus was whether the public in general feel there are adequate opportunities for social mobility here.

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