Designers set shining example

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am

As the mainland economy grows, more and more young people from Hong Kong are working there

Li Wai-chi proudly shows off some of the sparkling jewellery she helped make as rows of young mainland workers toil around her.

She has been working at the mainland production plant of Hong Kong-based Kings Mark Designer & Manufacturing (45 minutes from Lo Wu) since she graduated in 2005.

Ms Li is one of a rapidly growing number of young Hongkongers heading across the border for better job opportunities.

With the Chinese economy developing at a rapid pace and growing economic ties between the mainland and Hong Kong, increasing numbers of local graduates are heading north.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, there are now 470,000 Hongkongers residing on the mainland. About 53,000 of them aged between 15 and 29 years old.

While a full-time job in Shenzhen means being away from family and friends, Ms Li says the unique experience more than makes up for the inconvenience.

'I did short stints at the Hong Kong headquarters some time ago. But it's mostly boring paperwork and administrative duties.

'The work in Shenzhen is more dynamic. With the entire production line here, from jewellery design to mould making to grinding and inlaying stones, I can learn the whole process of jewellery making,' says the 21-year-old, who works in the research and development department and earns HK$8,000 a month.

Her colleague Luk Ka-yan shares her enthusiasm about working on the mainland.

'Compared to Hong Kong, the jewellery industry on the mainland is less developed, which means talent is in greater demand.

'The industry is in its early stages and I can flex my design muscles,' says the 22-year-old.

Although they can make full use of their creativity, they say working in manufacturing on the mainland can be tough, as hours are long.

'There is regular overtime work. Sometimes, we stay until 9pm,' say the jewellery design graduates from the Vocational Training Council.

Working amidst a cluster of manufacturing plants means no visits to malls or cinemas in their free time.

'Compared to Hong Kong, there's much less entertainment here. We usually go straight home after work,' says Ms Luk, who goes back to Hong Kong every Friday to spend weekends with her family and friends.

A 10-minute journey from the plant, their home is an apartment with three bedrooms and two sitting rooms that they share with four co-workers.

Living away from their parents has been a valuable lesson in independence.

'Each of us takes turns doing the housework, including washing, sweeping and so on. When I first arrived, I couldn't get used to doing the housework as my parents did everything for me at home,' says Ms Li.

While they have overcome their initial homesickness and unsettled feelings about working in Shenzhen, many of their peers have broken their contracts and returned to Hong Kong.

Flora Ma, research and development manager at the company understands why some of her employees return home. 'Over the past two years, we have employed 13 young people from Hong Kong. Overwhelmed by the hard work and the big difference between life here and in their hometown, many of them decided to return,' she says.

Although Ms Ma is disappointed in wasting resources on training the employees, she still considers Hong Kong graduates as a welcome injection of talent.

'Having received specialised training in Hong Kong, the graduates are in great demand on the mainland,' says Ms Ma, who was at the vanguard of the exodus of young local talent to the mainland in the 90s.

A great example of a young Hongkonger who has done well on the mainland through hard work and perseverance, Ms Ma offers advice to those who want to head north.

'A full-time job on the mainland means less entertainment and even alienation from friends. Those who are interested in working across the border should be prepared to make sacrifices.'

Despite the hard work and separation from loved ones, Ms Li says one aspect of her stay on the mainland makes it all worthwhile.

'With free accommodation provided by the company and the lack of entertainment, I save a lot of money.'