SCMP Saturday, March 10, 2001

Enough to go round

Hong Kong is not alone in seeking to attract bright new talent to keep its economy on track. There is a worldwide shortage of brain power, and every country in the developed world offers inducements to those with top potential. The US, for example, has increased the number of special visas on offer to talented newcomers.
Information technology has the most acute shortfall because the pace of development is so fast that even California's Silicon Valley is struggling to meet the challenges of global supply and demand. That makes it especially difficult for the SAR to lure graduates across the border. "Go West" - in the original sense of the phrase - is still the message most young people respond to, no matter what their area of expertise.
Since the handover, Hong Kong has lost a little of its lustre, and is learning the hard way that employers set the terms in an under-supplied world market for graduates. Too much bureaucracy is guaranteed to deter people who want to get on with their careers.
Therefore, it is entirely sensible to simplify the system for recruiting mainland professionals, from all disciplines, who can provide skills not readily available on the local scene. These moves may be a little late, but are quite necessary.
However, employers also have to realise that sought-after professionals may expect a special package of benefits if they agree to settle here. Complicated entry procedures may not have been the only reason why the SAR only managed to attract 602 workers from 3,129 applicants during the three years the first scheme has been in operation.
In Western nations, holiday entitlements and remuneration benefits are usually more generous. Despite its multicultural image, Hong Kong is something of an upmarket version of home for some career-minded young mainlanders. Many are eager to travel, to experience other cultures and different work practices, while expanding their horizons in all directions.
Yet even if more are recruited, local graduates should have little reason to worry about losing out in the job market. As the chairman of a business lobbying group has noted, "the community as a whole should recognise that a flexible policy will actually enhance overall job opportunities for Hong Kong people". There should be plenty of work for everyone.