Work experience tops the bill
Most companies would rather recruit people with project management skills than postgraduates fresh from university
HONG KONG IS the leading financial, logistics and communications hub in Asia and, as such, is a big user of information technology.
According to the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, it is the most electronically savvy economy in Asia, having overtaken Singapore, and is clearly ahead of Japan, South Korea and Australia.
The world's IT companies are well-represented in Hong Kong, so demand for IT staff is high. But demand for IT postgraduate degree holders is not.
Fernand Fontecha, recruitment management consultant at United states-based head-hunting company LAB Resources Consulting, said: 'It seems that clients do not put emphasis on having postgraduate degrees, although [they may seem] advantageous.
'Companies value work experience more. Between a candidate with a few years of work experience and one who is straight out of university with a postgrad, companies would normally choose the candidate with work experience.'
Frank Chan, managing director of recruitment company Pacrim Recruiters (HK), agreed. 'Work experience is far more important than any postgrad IT degree. As long as you have a bachelor's degree ... the practical experience is very important.'
Mr Fontecha said for senior positions such as systems analysts and project managers, clients sometimes required applicants to hold a master's degree.
'In such cases, clients would specify it as optional or an advantage.'
Mr Fontecha said, however, the industry had specific needs, such as project management, e-commerce specialisation and quality assurance, which were addressed by postgraduate degree courses.
Also, some companies valued the Capability Maturity Model (from the Software Institute) and Project Management Professional and Java certifications.
Mr Chan said: 'Certification is another issue. These [certifications] are highly sought after.'
IT solutions provider NCS pays for its staff to attend these types of professional certification courses.
NCS general manager in Hong Kong, Wilfred Tan Ban Hock, pursued a three-year part-time master's degree programme in software engineering because he felt that his bachelor's degree was insufficient to meet his work needs.
Mr Tan spent the first two years of his master's programme amassing knowledge on software estimation and project management and the final year in hands-on work in a company.
'To me, the IT bachelor's degree is only fundamental. As a basic degree holder you have not seen enough of what IT is all about,' he said.
NCS is Singapore's leading information technology and communications engineering services firm. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Singapore Telecom Group and has more than 12 offices in 10 countries across the Asia-Pacific.
The company's office in Hong Kong provides a range of IT services, including applications development, systems integration, IT infrastructure and outsourcing services.
The company has a few other master's degree holders on its team, all at project manager level and above. 'They have a more mature mentality. They are able to handle customers' demands better,' Mr Tan said.
'But this is through years of experience on the job, not just because of their education.
'Their technical skills are good and so are their personalities and project management skills. Moreover, they tend not to be job hoppers but are looking for a long-term career with a single organisation,' he said.
Job hopping, as is the case with other industries, is the bane of IT human resource managers.
Mr Tan has had difficulty recruiting skilled people for his company since 2005.
He said that IT professionals were increasingly leaving their jobs for opportunities in other industries, with banking, research and financial services - especially wealth management - the major culprits that were pulling away IT talent.
NCS is under mounting pressure to slash prices but perform well. So staff have to face increasing expectations, constant overtime, late hours and pressure to finish a job.
'Even if we are willing to pay, they are not willing to stay. The work is just too hard,' Mr Tan said.
He faces the dilemma of having to constantly recruit new staff.
'My concern is very much with the quality of IT graduates [leaving university] today.'
He said that graduates had plenty of IT but not enough business knowledge.
'That [lack of business knowledge] is not good enough for what we need to deliver.
'Business skills, for example, and effective negotiation skills, are lacking in the industry today,' Mr Tan said.
The IT industry is a complex one that demands that some of its professionals have advanced industry knowledge.
Mr Tan was concerned that the industry would be unable to find IT staff with the master's degrees and PhDs that it needed.
He said the skilled people that the industry required were increasingly coming from the mainland.
'We are lacking [skilled staff] in Hong Kong and we have to source externally,' he said.