Hong Kong has a global reputation as one of the world’s foremost financial centres and is widely seen as one of Asia’s leading hubs for business. Described by HSBC as being “market-driven with minimal government interference”, the World Bank’s Doing Business report for 2013 ranked Hong Kong second out of 185 countries for ease of doing business.

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Hong Kong’s wealth has been built on its services sector, which ranges from financial services to real estate, and relies heavily on demand from Europe and the US. As a result, the global recession has taken its toll on the Chinese special administrative region’s economy. Although Hong Kong’s services industry is among the most advanced in the region – accounting for 84% of GDP, according to the government’s Information Services Department – it has seen a significant slowdown in demand. Hang Seng Bank found that Hong Kong’s GDP declined from 4.9% in 2011 to 1.5% in 2012.

While this is a source of concern for the government, Hong Kong’s secretary for education, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, remains optimistic. “Hong Kong is in good shape and if you look at the unemployment rate, it stands at about 3.3%,” he says.

“Europe is still an area of concern for us and the US is recovering slowly, so that is a concern. However, Hong Kong is strategically positioned in some areas. The manufacturing centre of the world is in the south, where more than 50% of the sport shoes in the world and about 40% of printed circuit board manufacturing happens, so there is a lot of manufacturing activity around there. In Asia at least, most of the service sector is still booming and that hinges on a lot of demand for services. Hong Kong is doing well,” adds Mr Ng.

A global education

According to Mr Ng, Hong Kong has weathered the global headwinds relatively well because its education system is structured to produce workers that cater to the needs of global businesses. As well as being a gateway for companies looking to enter China, Hong Kong’s educated workforce has proven ideal for businesses seeking to recruit well-trained staff, who can operate in neighbouring markets.

“Our medical, accounting, legal and service sectors all carry high standards,” says Mr Ng. “You will see a lot more accountants from Hong Kong in mainland China and you will see a lot more marketing people running around the region. You can count on them to provide reliable information. Hong Kong has a good capacity in English and, although we speak Cantonese, the younger population has a much higher standard of Mandarin in order to function better in China.”

For Mr Ng, Hong Kong’s well-educated workforce is a strategic asset. He maintains that the government has worked ahead of the demand curve to produce a globalised workforce. Furthermore, he maintains that his department will work to implement initiatives to produce workers that can cater to the changing demands of international companies.

“Hong Kong is an international city and we want to make its [workforce] more global than local,” he says. “We have been doing this, but it is a long journey. Our education [system] encourages undergraduates to have more international internships and we provide thousands of scholarships." 

"We have structured the quality of our workforce by industry. In 2008, we formed 19 industry-specific advisory committees under a quality framework to see how we can improve levels of productivity. We have diversified our curriculum, so the new system will prepare students for the new operating environment of the 21st century.”