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Hong Kong’s business scholars target top finance employers for work-life balance

Educators at business schools confirm that students’ career priorities have shifted.

Business students in Hong Kong universities have set their priorities straight when it comes to a balanced work environment. Hence, established finance companies in Hong Kong have been top-of-mind due to the attractive benefits the firms uphold.

A recent study, titled Universum Talent Research 2023, showed that Hong Kong business students prefer working for companies in the banking industry.

Topping their preference list are J.P. Morgan, voted by 25.4% of the respondents; HSBC with 21.7%; and Morgan Stanley, 14.31%. Then comes Google at a close 13.7%, HKSAR Government at 13.5%, and then Apple, 12.2%.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) – Business School said in an exclusive correspondence with Hong Kong Business that students are provided with guidance and support in accordance with their chosen career path.

“To expand students’ exposure to the career market and different industries, we offer career-related initiatives that include industry talks, recruitment talks, dialogue with executive series, alumni sharing series, company visits and career development workshops,” HKUST said.

Likewise, in a study written by PwC, titled “Asia Pacific Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2023,” trends were identified that form the preferential taste of now-employees. The results of the survey could be perceived as the preface to how aspiring business employees see the world.

One of the salient points was the readiness of firms and how they can weather economic crises down to global pandemics. It stated that 39% of the respondents do not see their current place of employment surviving over 10 years.

“Reinvention is key to business viability,” the PwC study indicated. 

In a separate interview, Associate Dean of MBA Programmes Wan Wongsunwai of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) said that students are mostly keen on joining well-established institutions such as J.P. Morgan and HSBC.

“Both of these companies… have been around for a very long time. And partly a consequence of being that old, they are also very big. They are both very highly globalised entities,” Wongsunwai said. “I think it’s not surprising that we will see many graduates from business schools in Hong Kong, from business programmes, thinking of those types of firms as their preferred destination.”

The Universum survey also showed that the students prefer workplaces with “professional training & development” and those that encourage work-life balance.

“High future earnings” has fallen in the list of graduates’ priorities, dropping to the 4th position, two places lower than the previous year. The change shows that students now prioritise factors that impact their well-being more than financial earnings.

Dynamics of career choices

The preferences of business graduates in Hong Kong reflect a blend of traditional values, economic conditions, and personal aspirations.

These top firms’ long-standing presence instil confidence in job security and prospects for career growth. In addition, their reputable standing in the financial sector, coupled with the diverse career paths they offer, positions them as attractive destinations for young professionals.

Meanwhile, the Universum survey also showed a decline in students’ expected annual salary upon graduation, decreasing from HK$303.0k in 2022 to HK$292.9k, representing a 3% drop.

This reversal contrasts with the trend observed in the 2022 survey, which showed a 19% increase in expected annual salary compared to 2021.

This suggests that students are recognising the transition from the “great resignation” period to a more uncertain economic environment, characterised by an increased likelihood of high-profile layoffs.

Consequently, they are adopting a more cautious approach when setting their salary expectations.

Students studying business or commerce also lowered their salary expectations (-6%), only expecting a pay of HK$279.7k per annum.

However, the evolving landscape has also witnessed a shift in students' career priorities, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is still more pessimism, considering the time of the survey,” Wongsunwai said. “At the time, people were still struggling from the two years of non-ending restrictions [due to the COVID-19 pandemic].”

As the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the global economy and redefined work-life balance, students began reevaluating their career aspirations. 

The decline in expected annual salaries upon graduation influenced a reorientation towards broader factors that contribute to personal fulfilment and job satisfaction. So, students were placing greater emphasis on work-life balance, job stability, and personal growth.

Job satisfaction levels have remained relatively stable over the past year though, PwC said. In its report, approximately 57% of employees expressed moderate to high job satisfaction, a trend similar to the global average and consistent with the previous year’s data.

Still, significant variations in job satisfaction levels exist across the region.

Advanced economies like Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan reported lower satisfaction levels, ranging from 29% to 45%.

Conversely, employees in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Mainland China, and India exhibit higher job satisfaction, ranging from 70% to 79%.

A new approach to holistic schooling 

In navigating the complex landscape of career choices, universities like CUHK stands for holistic education and career development. Even in its 60th year of academic experience, it has grown to produce visionaries.

“In the context of business in Hong Kong, you look around at the senior executives in businesses around [Hong Kong]. Whether they happen to be local businesses or local officers of multinationals, the chances are very high that these very senior executives are graduates of our programmes,” Wongsunwai expressed.

By emphasising whole-person development, providing specialised concentrations, fostering an extensive alumni network, and offering mentorship programs, CUHK equips its business graduates with the tools and support needed to make informed career decisions.

“Whether or not they have prior business exposure is not really relevant to what we are discussing here. It could be relevant in terms of them thinking about their future career direction, but as far as their primary reason for coming to a university like ours, they have basic expectations about things they will learn with us. Of course, our programmes are structured to deliver this… there can be quite a lot of variations.” Wongsunwai said.

For HKUST, their business school segment ties close partnerships with corporates, non-government organisations, and alumni to offer alternatives for students to boost their career and personal development.

HKUST offers 39 combinations of single- or double-major Bachelor of Business Administration programs.

It offers a full range of business courses: economics, finance, global business, general business management, information systems, operations management, marketing, management, and professional accounting. Also, students may opt to enrol in non-business minors.

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