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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Lack of Cantonese language skills biggest barrier to finding work for Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities, study finds

Cantonese ability top concern in hiring non-Chinese employees for almost two-thirds of firms polled, but work attitude also important

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2018, 9:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 8:40am

An inability to speak Cantonese remains the biggest barrier for those from ethnic minority groups looking for a job in Hong Kong, according to a study by a non-profit youth organisation.

More than half of 150 non-Chinese employees surveyed by Junior Chamber International (Harbour) said they encountered difficulties applying for work largely because of language issues.

About 54 per cent cited their inability to speak any Cantonese as an impediment to securing employment, and 47 per cent pointed to their inability to write Chinese.

Cantonese ability was the top concern for almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of the 50 companies polled in hiring a non-Chinese employee, but work attitude was also important.

More than 70 per cent of the 50 firms said they believed job attitudes were about the same between Chinese and non-Chinese staff.

Ho Chung-ho, service supervisor for the Salvation Army Yau Ma Tei Integrated Service for Young People, which took part in the survey, said many young people from ethnic minority groups, especially from low-income families, felt discouraged by the language barrier and this limited their vision in what careers to pursue.

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“Many times they don’t know what they want to do,” he said. “They often just follow their father’s lead into trades such as porters, construction workers or security guards. To them these are big industries already.”

He urged employers to adjust their hiring requirements and consider providing more support, mentorship programmes and pre-employment training.

Those from ethnic minority groups, however, had an overwhelming advantage in English – 90 per cent commanded excellent reading, writing or speaking skills, Ho said.

According to the 2016 population by-census, there were about 264,000 people from ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong, excluding domestic helpers, making up 3.6 per cent of the population.

South Asians, comprising Indians, Pakistanis and Nepalis, were the largest group – or about 30 per cent – of ethnic minorities in the city.

Andy Clachers, chief operating officer of insurer AXA Hong Kong, which sponsored a Junior Chamber project to help ethnic minority people seek employment, said many did not realise there were plenty of companies actively hiring native English speakers and that a lot of firms used English correspondence.

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He added: “I would say believe in yourself, seek help and reach out to organisations and say to them, ‘These are the skills I’ve got, how can I contribute to your organisation?’”

Undersecretary for Commerce and Economic Development Bernard Chan Pak-li said ethnic minority groups were a valuable source of workers for the city’s tight labour market.

“The unemployment rate is now at 2.8 per cent. This is good sign because it means every industry is doing well and everyone is competing for labour but the [negative side] is that it shows there is not enough manpower,” he said on Sunday.