Open up city to foreign talent or risk lagging behind in innovation: Hong Kong Science Park chief

Fanny Law says priority should be given to industries with shortage of skilled labour

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 November, 2017, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 November, 2017, 10:47pm

The shortage of skilled professionals and red tape in hiring overseas talent must be solved or Hong Kong will risk falling behind other cities in innovation and technology, the head of the Science Park has warned.

Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun called on Hongkongers to embrace opening up the city’s labour market to foreigners, but she admitted that public consensus must be gained before such a move.

Speaking at a private session with the media on Wednesday, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation shared her views on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s maiden policy address on October 11.

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In particular, Law praised eight initiatives mentioned by the city’s leader to boost the innovation and technology industry. “I’m fully confident in Lam … and the new administration, which has cooperated well in the past few months and responded to many of our suggestions,” she said.

One of Lam’s goals is to double the expenditure on research and development from 0.73 per cent of the gross domestic product to 1.5 per cent within the term of the current administration, which ends in 2022.

A HK$500 million Technology Talent Scheme will also be launched in the coming year to help enterprises recruit highly educated professionals.

But Law, who is also an executive councillor, said she believed that one area in which the government could do more was to encourage hi-tech companies to recruit talent from overseas.

Currently, companies looking to hire from outside Hong Kong must first prove that the job vacancy cannot be filled by a local – a process which can take months.

“If you’re looking to compete for top-notch talent – these people may be approached by a dozen companies even before graduation – and you ask them to wait for a few months, of course they will have looked elsewhere,” Law said.

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She suggested that one way of streamlining this process was to provide pre-authorised positions to accredited firms from high value-added industries, so they could bypass long application procedures when hiring foreign professionals.

But Law stressed that this should only apply to industries where there was a shortage of skilled labour.

“Rather than seeing it as competition, I wish Hongkongers could embrace the idea that importing foreign skilled labour could open up more economic opportunities and create more jobs,” she said.

Apart from attracting talent, Law said Hong Kong must also develop an appetite for risk to succeed in hi-tech industries.

“Some foreign investors have told me in the past that Hong Kong people seem easily satisfied … I have always said we need to dream big and tolerate mistakes.”

She said it would take years for Hongkongers to change its deep-rooted conservative mentality and embrace risks while acknowledging the benefits of innovation and technological development.