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Innovations can solve talent shortage

By Dean Stallard | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-21 07:50
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. [Photo/Xinhua]

The opening of the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Bridge last September was a key step in the development of the Pearl River Delta region. The 26-kilometer-long bridge and tunnel complex has improved the flow of goods between all ports and increased the flow of tourists across the border.

In February, five months after the bridge was opened, China unveiled the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development plan, which aims to build the region into a globally influential innovation and technology hub and a competitive and first-class city cluster.

To achieve these goals, talent is the key.

But the development of the GBA is outpacing the supply of talent, making it necessary to adopt an innovative approach to recruitment and retaining skilled workers across sectors and companies.

The skill gap has widened

In the Asia Salary Guide 2019 of recruitment experts organization Hays, 47 percent of companies said they were not confident of finding the talents with the needed skills in the year ahead. The skill gap has widened in the past year-up from 36 percent in 2018.

This means most enterprises will struggle to recruit the talents they need in the year ahead. But as well as challenges, there are opportunities, especially for the key industries enjoying fast growth.

The demand for skilled workers is particularly acute in four fast-growth industries: research and development in innovative technologies, financial services, trade and logistics, and the medical industry.

In the technology R&D sector, there is a lack of data scientists, cloud architects, user interface designers, solution engineers and artificial intelligence professionals. And the success of these industries is essential for the GBA to become a global technology and innovation hub.

Relationship managers in high demand

In financial services, the demand is highest for relationship managers who can work on both sides of the border in the banking sector. Chinese mainland and international banks based in Guangdong province are looking for relationship managers from Hong Kong who can speak Mandarin and are willing to work on the mainland, as they can bring in their contacts, networks and knowledge to help the banks grow their businesses on the mainland. Also in demand are professionals in risk and compliance.

Hong Kong will be the jewel in the GBA crown as an international financial center. It will remain the world's largest offshore renminbi hub and play a crucial role in the growth of the financial sector in the whole GBA.

Exports will remain one of the core economic drivers in the foreseeable future, and with the GBA being positioned as a key location on the Belt and Road, trade and logistics will be a key sector with great opportunities for distribution managers, supply chain managers, procurement managers and logistics experts.

Chronic shortage of doctors and nurses

In the medical industry, there is a chronic shortage of medical professionals, doctors and nurses. China is shifting from a reliance on emergency room care to networks of general physicians and family practices. With the growth of medical technology, there is a growing demand for biopharmaceutical engineers and research engineers.

Companies in these sectors are facing acute shortages of skilled workers, and project an even greater need for talent in the coming years.

China has rolled out new tax regulations and policy measures to facilitate the cross-border and regional flow of talents, which will weave the GBA together and help the region to overcome its talent shortage.

First, since tax rates are higher on the mainland than in Hong Kong, new subsidies have been announced to offset the loss talents from Hong Kong working on the mainland would suffer. And overseas high-end talent and professionals in short supply will receive subsidies from the Guangdong provincial and Shenzhen city governments to offset the differential.

Companies have to review their pay scales

However, companies operating on the mainland also need to review their pay scales. Internationally, employers offer higher salaries, on average, compared with those offered on the mainland.

Second, policies are being introduced to encourage freer flow of people across the region. Which will ease visa and travel concerns for multinational companies' employees, and provide more cross-regional opportunities for skilled employees willing to embrace a pan-GBA perspective. Senior executives in the tech sector can live in Hong Kong or Macao and work in southern mainland cities, or vice-versa. It's not unusual to see cross-border workers filling immigration halls every morning.

Companies can play a key role in realizing free movement across the GBA. Ma Huateng, founder and chief executive of Tencent, believes rigid restrictions on the flow of talents in the GBA has prevented Hong Kong companies from hiring people from the mainland and has raised the idea of a GBA ID card, which would allow Hong Kong and Macao residents to save their "mainland travel permit" information on their mobile phones to give them greater mobility plus access to services such as mobile payments.

Talents who can speak three languages needed

What we are seeing now is a real demand for trilingual candidates who speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese. They are essential to facilitate cross-border cooperation. Eventually the region should be more open in order to bring in global talents to support the development, which is happening now. But we are seeing a high demand for returnees who have studied and/or worked in Western countries.

And since a lot more Hong Kong talents are now more willing to work on the mainland, especially in the innovation and tech sectors, relaxation of border control would encourage them to seek career advancement on the mainland. Doing so would also offer them a competitive edge through upgrading of skills and further their career.

Shenzhen, for instance, is developing into an innovation hub for the tech sector, and allows talents to work for the most innovative, exciting, well-funded technology businesses in the world, and be exposed to the latest cutting-edge technologies. This can strengthen the talents' career development and put them ahead of others.

Candidates need to have a pan-GBA perspective

The key to the success of the GBA is talent policy. While the government will play its part by offering a helping hand to attract international talents, companies will have to do their bit by reviewing their pay scales and ensuring employees can upgrade their skills. Candidates, on their part, will need to adopt a pan-GBA perspective if they want to tap the potential of the GBA to realize their own.

The development of the GBA offers companies and candidates fantastic opportunities, but also challenges. And both companies and talents will need to ensure they are ahead of the competition curve if they want to leverage the opportunities offered by the vision for the GBA.

The author is managing director of Hays, Greater Bay Area. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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