Authority seeking enabling professionals

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 March, 2009, 12:00am

A hospital might not be a conventional place for an accountant or an information technology professional to establish a career, but the Hospital Authority is welcoming what it calls the 'enabling professionals' to join.

Among some 45,000 employees of the authority are at least 300 information technology (IT) staff, 200 accountants and finance professionals, 150 human resources (HR) personnel, 50-odd librarians and statisticians, and at least 80 cooks and chefs. Despite the financial tsunami, the authority will be hiring about 20 accountants and a few more IT staff, the fastest-growing section in the authority.

'We offer some good careers for the non-clinical professionals,' said David Rossiter, head of HR at the authority. 'Most people don't realise these careers exist in public health care. When they think of health care professionals, they think of doctors, nurses and allied health. But behind all the clinical professionals there is a range of other professionals helping to make it happen.'

With the government's initiative for electronic health records, the IT department will be hiring more staff. 'We have a good collection of exceptionally good IT people and we are growing,' said Mr Rossiter, an Australian who joined the authority 61/2 years ago.

The authority also has a couple of hundred IT contract staff who do programme work, and it is looking at the department's salary structure. 'We are reviewing the career structure in IT because we want to make sure that we are attractive and competitive,' he said. 'They basically have some streams in which they could be promoted through management, through technical or supporting streams.'

Overall, the authority's package is competitive, with pay very much in line with the market rate. He said he believed the provident fund was generous, and employees enjoyed better medical benefits.

The authority not only needs IT professionals but also accountants.

'As far as finance is concerned, looking at it in a very simplistic way, the public trusts us to manage the health care system with about HK$30billion [a year],' Mr Rossiter said. 'And, to actually manage that money, it is not just a matter of spending the money, it takes professional accountants to manage the money.'

He said it had been tough to fill these spots because so many accountants had been going to work on the mainland.

'Good accountants are hard to find in Hong Kong, and we've found over the past two years that we're no different from the financial sector. We've had a tough time, we've had to work hard to attract them.'

As the authority recruits and trains staff, the workload in the HR department has created a demand.

'The HR professionals are the ones who deliver to the frontline,' he said. Historically, the authority has not done much to attract non-clinical professionals to the field.

'We haven't needed to do a lot. Several things happened over the past two years. Firstly, turnover has increased a little, it's a healthy turnover in the professional grade. Secondly, we have an ageing workforce; people age so we need to start thinking how to attract people at all levels, but particularly at the starting point of their careers.'

Mr Rossiter underwent a career change a long time ago. The son of a doctor, he chose to go into the retail business first. He was working in the operations division when the managing director of the company left and joined an international conglomerate. Mr Rossiter joined his former boss. 'I followed a leader basically from retailing to health care,' he said.

That conglomerate started acquiring private hospitals in Australia and grew into the biggest private-hospital organisation.

At the time, he did not have a psychology degree to work in human resources. 'If a young person asked me today what sort of qualifications will be good for the future, I would certainly put psychology on the list. But I think understanding the industry, understanding how the organisation works is more important than your qualifications.'

He later left the conglomerate to go into the public hospital system. From there he went to the Hospital Authority. 'With the transition from private to public, there were a lot of things I had to learn. There were a lot of things that were very different. But the public [system] is more rewarding and definitely more challenging.' He said the best thing about hospital jobs was that 'we are dealing with people, not money'. 'If I do my job well, if I do it well in health care, it means that somewhere near the end of the chain, the clinicians can do their job well. That's much better than stock options.'