Hong Kong must sharpen its ‘soft’ science skills to find a place in the tech-driven world

Po Chung says while ‘hard’ STEM subjects should be promoted, equal emphasis must be placed on skills such as trust and moral competence to help the city find its niche

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 7:50pm

It is encouraging to see STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects being promoted strongly in Hong Kong and elsewhere. I see them as “hard” STEM, as they are regarded as essential skills for 21st-century students. However, this century is all about a people-based, or service, economy.

Focusing solely on ‘hard’ STEM subjects will cost us too much and harvest too little in return

Hong Kong has potential in research and development; its universities are world-class. But it is joining this trend quite late. With less land, investment and regulation, focusing solely on “hard” STEM subjects will cost us too much and harvest too little in return.

Hong Kong must continue to promote such education, but we must not neglect “soft” STEM expertise – that is, skills, trust, empathy and moral competence – through which our city can find its niche in the ever-changing technological world.

I see this as a DNA double helix: saying “hard” STEM is all we need is like having half a strand of DNA. We need craftspeople to earn a better living but skills such as leadership and networking will never be out of date.

To grow, Hong Kong must branch out from a mainly service economy

Hong Kong is a hybrid society in terms of values, which is also the cornerstone of our success. Our social fabric intertwines the value-based Chinese Confucian culture with the practice-orientated Anglo-Saxon culture. The workforce is not only equipped with hard skills such as trilingualism, but also soft skills that accommodate differences.

Business leaders cannot excel without trust and respect. Hong Kong has always served as a trusted broker for its well-established and transparent system of doing business. But the government and business community have done little to build up new ways to expand our trustworthiness to emerging domains, notably fintech and the sharing economy.

The future prosperity of Hong Kong is contingent upon it being a force of good guidance

The future prosperity of Hong Kong is contingent upon it being a force of good guidance. We have a liberal economy and a tolerant and vibrant civil society. More than merely a merchants’ city, Hong Kong is home to experts in law, geopolitics, economics, ethics and philosophy. These are important voices to ensure new technologies will serve the community. For that reason, Hong Kong must master both the art of modern techniques and classical studies.

As Sun Tzu said, “Know the enemy and know yourself.” Hong Kong is far ahead of its rivals in “soft” STEM aspects, so it must remain confident, and focus on upholding and upgrading the relevant infrastructure. To achieve this, society, the government and the business community must jointly bridge the gap between modern techniques and classical humanities studies.

In this way, Hong Kong will remain competent and caring, with a great character and deserved prosperity.

Po Chung is the co-founder of DHL International and founder of the Hong Kong Institute of Service Leadership & Management