Targeted solutions needed to stimulate the talent flow within Greater Bay Area
This article appeared originally in the China Daily on 31 August, 2022.
Authors: Victor Kwok, Assistant Research Director, and Alex Mak, Researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu told the Aug 11 Greater Bay Area Global Innovation and Technology Summit that top-notch talents were needed for Hong Kong’s information technology sector. Talents play a crucial role in GBA development while talent flow is particularly important for Hong Kong and economic growth. The reasons are, one, Hong Kong’s industry lacks diversity and its emerging industries haven’t created sufficient jobs while the GBA’s larger market offers upward social mobility and greater opportunities for youngsters; and two, local manpower hasn’t kept up with Hong Kong’s development within the eight international centers or hubs charted under the National 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), necessitating talent imports to meet demand.Our Hong Kong Foundation (OHKF) collaborated with the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and commissioned Lingnan University to conduct three surveys to study talent flow within the GBA. The surveys explored Hong Kong residents’ living conditions in the other GBA cities, the experience of highly educated mainland residents in Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong general public’s views on imported talent. The surveys served as the basis for the “Facilitating Greater Bay Area Talent Flow and Development Opportunities for Hong Kong Citizens” report released in August and constituted our largest GBA data collection effort to date.
The research team visited all nine mainland GBA cities and collected 2,499 valid interviews from Hong Kong residents residing in those GBA cities. The study found that Hong Kong residents recognized the necessity of GBA talent flow. Sixty-six percent of the respondents agreed that nonlocal recruitment was inevitable in the globalized environment and conducive to developing emerging industries. More than half of the respondents living in the GBA were satisfied with living conditions and claimed enhanced socioeconomic status after relocation to the mainland. This proves the GBA offers Hong Kong residents a channel for upward social mobility. However, the study also indicated that both mainland talent in Hong Kong and Hong Kong residents on the mainland are facing numerous challenges
Reviewing immigration policies to remove talent flow barriers
All countries spare no effort refining immigration policies in the global race to attract and retain internationally mobile talents. Some of Hong Kong’s immigration programs are full of counterproductive limitations and complicated procedures. The Technology Talent Admission Scheme is one example. Only front-line R&D operators are eligible, while professionals in intellectual property and technology management are rejected. The program is unappealing, with approximately 250 applications in the past three years. The government should review application criteria, quotas and approval procedures for existing talent programs to draw talents more effectively.
Improving living conditions to attract and retain talents
Talents need to be kept after being courted. OHKF found approximately 60 percent of highly educated mainland respondents who entered Hong Kong with employment visas did not intend to stay for more than five years. Over 60 percent cited poor living conditions as their primary reason. Hong Kong Science Park’s InnoCell talent accommodation project provides housing welfare for imported talents, but only 500 rental units are reserved. This fails to support Hong Kong’s talent development. The government should expand housing programs to accommodate a greater diversity of talents while improving living conditions as an incentive.
Social integration levels and a sense of belonging also affected inclinations to pursue Hong Kong careers. OHKF’s study showed 61 percent of mainland respondents in Hong Kong felt they had little to no interaction with their local communities. This leaves much room for the government to organize more cultural courses and activities for new arrivals to grow roots.
Optimizing GBA amenities to broaden development paths
The movement of talent is not a one-way street. In addition to bringing in the world’s best brains to support local industries, the government should facilitate local residents’ development in the GBA and help diversify their pathways. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents said healthcare quality was an essential factor when deciding which mainland GBA city to settle in. A staggering 67 percent of interviewees rated mainland medical services as “unsatisfactory” or “average”. Multiple cross-boundary medical service integration projects were initiated to improve healthcare specifically for Hong Kong residents. This includes measures of using Hong Kong registered drugs and medical devices in the GBA and subsidies for seeking treatment at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital. The government should facilitate cross-boundary resource integration, such as implementing medical-records sharing under the Electronic Health Record Sharing System to benefit Hong Kong residents in the entire GBA.
Approximately half of Hong Kong respondents residing in the mainland were unfamiliar with the central government’s assistance policies despite the introduction of about 40 such policies targeting education, career and entrepreneurship to facilitate Hong Kong residents’ development in the GBA. This lack of awareness undermines confidence in building GBA careers. The government should capitalize on its resources and the extensive regional experience of various Hong Kong resident associations in the mainland to provide appropriate support. The government should also strengthen communication with associations to better understand Hong Kong residents’ needs and difficulties while residing in the mainland. More responsive policies will bolster their confidence to develop a career in the GBA.
Diversifying youth development
The surveys also indicate that respondents with mainland work experience claimed a higher socioeconomic status that reflects a deeper understanding of the mainland market and culture. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government should ramp up exchange activities, and work with relevant mainland organizations to help participants acquire GBA living and work experience. Simultaneously, different sectors find it difficult to advance their careers in the GBA because of the lack of a unified academic and professional accreditation system. The government should align qualification frameworks to establish systematic cross-boundary accreditation.
Talent mobility is pivotal for Hong Kong to fully harness the benefits brought by GBA development. The government should reinforce its various policies to make Hong Kong more inviting to the brightest minds while providing ample development opportunities for the residents.