Hongkongers are increasingly being recruited by Japanese firms who have traditionally hired their own nationals to work as executives around the world.
Grooming Hong Kong talent fluent in Japanese, English, Putonghua and Cantonese for senior management positions in their overseas offices will also help cut costs and boost staff morale.
This had not always been the case, said Dr Yoshiko Nakano, an associate dean at the University of Hong Kong's faculty of arts for outreach and development.
'Japanese companies tended to see Hong Kong workers - regardless of how proficient in English or Japanese - as second fiddle,' Nakano said. 'They basically were in assistant roles for a very long time, and didn't have much of a chance of being promoted to a higher post.'
In the past, Hong Kong graduates would be hired to work in the local offices only, but now, they were viewed as 'global talent' and sent to Tokyo for management training, she said.
Nakano put the change down firstly to costs. Hiring Hongkongers to run their local offices was cheaper than deploying executives from home. 'Japan has been suffering from a recession since the 1990s, so companies had to find ways to run their offices more effectively,' she said.
Secondly, Hong Kong graduates' language proficiency was making the city a gold mine for future executives, especially for manufacturing companies that viewed China as a valuable resource, Nakano said.
'Japanese companies are beginning to see the potential of using Hong Kong graduates to act as a bridge between several countries,' she said.
Emmy Wong Leung-ching, 23, who has a degree in Japanese studies, will soon start working for Toshiba as a procurement trainee in Tokyo. She spent a year studying at Hitotsubashi University in Japan, where she had her first taste of the work culture.
'During my internship, I made a presentation to persuade a company to take part in a competition, and the request was made at the start of my presentation,' Wong said. 'I later learned that it was impolite of me to be so forward.'
Nakano said graduates familiar with Japanese culture tended to be more loyal to their companies - a virtue the Japanese regard highly. 'From what I have seen, certain companies in the financial industry may hire from the faculty of business and economics, but the recruits from Japanese studies tend to be loyal and work for years,' she said.
Rita Fung Sau-ping, the head of human resources at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ's Hong Kong office, said the company hired about eight management trainees a year in Hong Kong. They would undergo training at the Tokyo head office and at other overseas centres, including New York. She denied cutting costs was an objective.
Fung said the aim was to diversify and localise the workforce. Of the bank's 37 department heads in Hong Kong, 31 were local, she said.