HONG KONG'S ABILITY to deploy skilled banking and finance personnel in the mainland could be crucial for local companies looking to capitalise on the opportunities presented by China's booming economy. Leung Chun-ying, convenor of the Executive Council and chairman of property advisory firm DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, said the spate of staff shortages, particularly in accountancy, was just the beginning. He was discussing the problem at a conference entitled 'Issues Affecting Corporate Performance', organised for management accountants last month. Mr Leung also said that factors such as salary inflation, high turnover and impaired productivity would become more serious once international banks extended their mainland market coverage. 'We should ensure that the right talent is deployed on the mainland. We should ensure that mobility across the border is not hindered. We should, therefore, lower all barriers that can be lowered,' he said. Successive phases of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) had reduced or removed some barriers, but more could be done, particularly by broadening the scope of Hong Kong's education system, Mr Leung said. 'The absence of Hong Kong schools in the key employment centres on the mainland presents an insurmountable hurdle for Hong Kong professionals and their employers. In the long run, it constrains the expansion of Hong Kong corporates,' he said. Mr Leung said many countries set up schools for the children of expatriate workers in major export markets. 'In Hong Kong, we have schools for Japanese, American, German and Singaporean children. They are run on the country's own curriculum and remove the biggest challenge in relocation.' Mr Leung said that as the mainland continued to open up, the overall success of Hong Kong companies would depend on how such challenges were tackled. He also identified the scale of business plans and the speed at which they were rolled out as critical issues. The mainland market generally rewarded companies which moved quickly, but overextending in the vast Chinese market could lead to problems. 'The challenges of both speed and scale hinge on one factor - human resources. We need a sizeable workforce of high quality to turn ambition into reality and potential into turnover and profits.' Mr Leung said companies in the banking and finance sector should map out a clear, long-term HR strategy, covering recruitment, rewards, retention and training. He also said that there should be closer communication with local universities to avoid a mismatch between course content and industry requirements. 'We should enlarge the intake and build in surplus capacity. Our recruitment targets should be broadened to include mainland graduates,' he said. 'Government policies should also facilitate the introduction of a mainland component into our workforce.' To deal with staff shortages in certain industries, including the accounting profession, his company this year was hiring people from the mainland who had graduated from Britain. Ten were from universities in China. 'The new generation of people, given proper induction and training, will be the growth engine of tomorrow's Hong Kong, whether they are local or from the mainland or overseas,' Mr Leung said. Andrew Oliver, managing director of Profile Search and Selection, a specialist recruitment firm focusing on financial services and human resources in Asia, said that staff shortages in the accounting profession had not yet reached a critical point. However, well-qualified middle managers with sufficient experience were in great demand. Mr Oliver said that people in this bracket were changing jobs for salary increases in the range of 10 to 15 per cent, though some managed increases of up to 20 per cent. Mr Oliver said there was no great need for companies to recruit accounting staff from overseas since they first targeted candidates from the Big Four accounting firms.