Driving Hong Kong’s Workforce

To meet the demands of a rapidly changing global economy, a competitive city’s workforce needs not only to be highly skilled but also adaptable and agile. Thanks to Hong Kong’s geographical position at the heart of Asia, its high standards in local education and training, and its sophisticated business culture, the city continues to prove a magnet for top-tier talent.

Hong Kong’s success in producing, attracting and retaining quality people can best be appreciated by examining three key workforce sectors: digital entrepreneurs; high-ranking executives in multinational companies; and scientific researchers in academia.

The Co-Founders

Entrepreneurs Teresa Chan and Chester Szeen are co-founders of Mellow, a financial planning app for young people.

It was the troubling thought of her university friends frittering away their money that put Teresa Chan on the road to digital entrepreneurship. She and Chinese University of Hong Kong classmate Chester Szeen are the co-founders of Mellow, a Hong Kong start-up whose mobile app helps young people to manage their finances.

Launched in 2019, Mellow is now expanding its offices in Cyberport, the largest digital tech community in Hong Kong. Cyberport nurtures start-ups by providing a series of funding programmes to lower the entry cost and at the same time, facilitating them with Cyberport global business and technology networks to increase their success rate. Its talent nurturing initiatives include the Cyberport University Partnership Programme (CUPP), a financial technology-focused entrepreneurship programme that offers students nominated by the university partners of Cyberport a unique chance to participate in an entrepreneurship “boot camp” overseas and be mentored by industry elites.

“I think Cyberport University Partnership Programme is a very good experimental ground for students to really explore what start-ups and what entrepreneurship is like.”

Teresa Chan,
Co-founder, Mellow

Ms Chan and Mr Szeen say they have benefitted from Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant innovation culture. The pair graduated from CUPP in 2017. “I think it’s a very good experimental ground for students to really explore what start-ups and entrepreneurship are like,” Ms Chan says of CUPP, which included education, training and mentorship at both Cyberport and Stanford Graduate School of Business in California.

As their company grows, Ms Chan and Mr Szeen aim to expand their workforce with local talent. “We focus on how well a candidate fits with the company culture,” says Ms Chan. While the right skill set is important, she adds that Mellow also requires a positive, can-do attitude: “To see if they really believe in this product.”

Workforce stability will also be crucial, so that the Mellow co-founders can increasingly hand responsibility to their new employees. “We treat them like family,” says Ms Chan. “We hang out and we talk about stuff; we keep things very transparent and we really show that we value them.”

“The continuous development of Hong Kong’s innovation and technology industry relies on the vigour of young people like Teresa and Chester who dare to take action on their limitless creativity and passion. One of Cyberport’s missions is to provide an ideal platform and sustainable support for these dream chasers along their entrepreneurial journey,” says Eric Chan, Chief Public Mission Officer of Cyberport. “I hope the CUPP graduates to remember they can always count on Cyberport as they start their own business.”

An Academic Perspective

Mai Har Sham is a professor of the School of Biomedical Sciences and Associate Vice-President (Research) at the University of Hong Kong.

Fostering local talent will be essential across Hong Kong as its economy evolves to meet the demands of a high-technology future. To this end, the city aims to leverage the advanced research carried out in its universities and further boost cross-boundary collaboration through initiatives such as the Midstream Research Programme for Universities and the Mainland-Hong Kong Joint Funding Scheme.

Extensive research collaborations with academic institutions in mainland China are continuing to strengthen, says Mai Har Sham, a professor of the School of Biomedical Sciences and Associate Vice-President (Research) at the University of Hong Kong. “One of the well-recognised strengths of researchers in Hong Kong is our ability and long-established practice in collaborating with researchers, including those from mainland China institutions and leading institutions in the world.”

“Our school has been actively recruiting top talents from all over the world for some time.”

Mai Har Sham,
Associate Vice-President (Research), University of Hong Kong

Prof Sham says the Hong Kong government’s financial and policy commitment to the development of science and technology in the city, to complement China’s national strategy for economic development in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area that encompasses Hong Kong, Macao and nine cities in Guangdong province, has “projected a lot of positive energy and momentum for biotechnology development”.

The biomedical sciences school at University of Hong Kong made headlines last year, with breakthroughs in gene editing, cancer treatment and stem cell research. The university, Prof Sham adds, offers a global research environment, high research and integrity standards, excellent facilities and innovative projects to attract outstanding students. “Our school has been actively recruiting top talents from all over the world for some time,” says Prof Sham.

Top-end Talent

Harry O’Neill leads the executive recruiting strategy for Heidrick & Struggles, a leading global executive search firm in Hong Kong.

By fostering talent while pursuing excellence, Hong Kong has also become an employment destination of choice for senior business executives.

“From a candidate’s point of view, Hong Kong has always been a very attractive place,” says Harry O’Neill, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, a leading global executive search firm that has recruited a who’s who of CEOs down the years, including Tim Cook at Apple, Satya Nadella at Microsoft and Eric Schmidt, formerly at Google.

The city on the south coast of China has long been a strategic destination for multinationals and often chosen for their Asia-Pacific or regional headquarters. “Hong Kong is seen as more glamorous than other cities in the region, and the glamour comes from it being a bigger, faster city with more pizzazz and energy,” says Mr O’Neill.

“You want the city as your centre of excellence for all things to do with financing into China.”

Harry O’Neill,
Partner, Heidrick & Struggles

Hong Kong is also an important gateway for companies that have – or want to have – strong business ties with China, and the city’s financial services infrastructure and legal environment are crucial to professionals working in fields ranging from law and banking to accounting.

“Hong Kong continues to be the international access point into China,” says Mr O’Neill. “It’s not just the banks being here, it’s the whole ecosystem. You want the city as the centre of excellence for all things to do with financing into China.”

With a host of financial and legal expertise at their fingertips, Mr O’Neill says corporations have access to all the talent they need in Hong Kong to adjust to a changing world. Ms Chan, meanwhile, is confident that as the Mellow app user base grows, the talent needed to fuel her company’s expansion will be home-grown.

“In terms of being able to hire the right people,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of talent in Hong Kong.”