Hong Kong IT chiefs having trouble finding talent, poll shows

City’s chief information and technology officers say hiring qualified staff in cyber security and business transformation especially hard

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 8:24pm

The government may struggle to implement its “smart city” initiatives, with Hong Kong’s chief information officers saying they are finding it increasingly hard to hire IT workers, according to a poll by an international recruiter.

In the survey by US human resources consulting firm Robert Half, 92 per cent of respondents said it was harder to find qualified IT staff than it was five years ago, especially in the cyber security and business transformation fields.

“Realistically, if we really want to address this problem longer-term, it needs to come from government initiative or education,” Robert Half Hong Kong managing director Adam Johnston said.

“Perhaps now is the time to speak with our education institutions, making sure they’re out there finding students in high school when they’re making career decisions and [telling them] that IT has a big future in Hong Kong.”

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The study was conducted between June and July this year and polled 75 chief information and chief technology officers from various Hong Kong companies.

The survey also found that 45 per cent of respondents believed the government’s “smart city” initiatives would lead to increased job opportunities for IT workers.

Under former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, the government announced in 2015 its plan to develop Hong Kong into a smart city, and chose Kowloon East as the pilot area.

A blueprint, currently going through a public consultation, is expected to be published in the third quarter of 2018.

Johnston said he believed that once the initiatives were approved and implemented, there would be a surge in demand for IT professionals, so the talent shortage should be addressed now.

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However, most Hong Kong students continue to pursue traditional career paths, promising higher salaries, after they graduate. These fields include finance, engineering, medicine and law.

Johnston said IT needs to be better “marketed” as a lucrative career to develop more home-grown workers.

“You’ll never create change until you explain to people why they should change,” he said.

But Chinese University economics professor Terence Chong Tai-leung believed that the lure of higher salaries in the finance industry would make it difficult to convince students to pursue technology degrees.

“For university graduates, they can find a higher-paying job in the financial sector ... it’s not high enough in IT,” he said.

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Attracting big names in the technology field, such as Tencent or Google, to set up regional offices or even headquarters in Hong Kong could help push salaries up to make it more attractive for young people to get into IT.

But it is not simply a question of pay. Johnston said some IT professionals would forgo higher salaries to work on new and exciting projects.

Contract-based work, as opposed to full-time employment, was also preferable for some people in the field because it allowed them the choice of which projects they wanted to work on and gave them more flexibility for work-life balance, he added.