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Language requirement bars HK firms from attracting foreign talent

An HR expert advises firms to re-assess ‘baked-in’ job fit expectations.

Hong Kong has been easing immigration rules left and right to attract more foreign workers into the city.

However, one problem — as pointed out by Mathew Gollop, managing director of Connected Group — is that some firms still fail to hire talent from overseas due to limiting factors such as language requirements.

“A candidate of mine took on a new role. His role is to look at talent as part of their diversity program and his first conversation with the talent function was to say, ‘why do so many of our job descriptions have ‘must speak Cantonese?’ The response was: ‘We don’t know, that’s just what it says on the job description,’” Gollop told Hong Kong Business.

“Of course many jobs in the local market will require Cantonese as a language but that’s a huge limiting factor when we know that the local talent market is decreasing. If we’re looking outside of that, then we’re going to have to be more flexible on some of these language requirements,” he said.

What the HR expert is telling companies is that the key to taking full advantage of Hong Kong’s easing of immigration restrictions is to look long and hard at their talent needs and reassess the “baked-in” expectations of what the fit looks like for a role.

“Organisations need to… look at what is the true demand,” Gollop said. “They need to revisit the HR framework, and maybe some pre-existing things that have become outdated in order to identify where we can hire people from outside; and they need to state that more explicitly.”

For Lancy Chui, senior vice president of Manpower Greater China, companies must also review their existing company culture and employee benefits to ensure that they remain competitive and attractive to foreign workers.

“Offering competitive compensation packages, career development opportunities, flexible working arrangements, and a positive company culture can help create an environment attractive to talent from all over the world,” Chui said in a separate interview by Hong Kong Business.

It is also important for companies to ensure that their recruitment practices “comply with relevant immigration, employment, and labour laws and regulations,” said Chui.

“They should be aware of the new approval parameters like the qualified types of labour under specific schemes, quotas for the importation of labour for each scheme, manning ratio, providing additional training places of existing collaborative training programs for local labour, application period, and process, accommodation arrangement,” he added.

Induction immersion

When hiring foreign talent, firms must also prepare for proper induction, which is key to successfully recruiting externally.

“I think organisations — certainly if it’s not a big corporation — do not have a function internally that deals with mobility. Organisations need to be very conscious of the fact that there needs to be a soft landing for people,” Gollop said.

“You need to make sure that they are supported through all of [the] changes that they’re going to need to go through, so that they can most effectively impact on your organisation in the shortest period of time,” he added.

Citing studies, the HR expert said that it usually takes 12 months before somebody who relocates geographically can really positively impact an organisation, this is much longer than the period it takes for somebody who moved from one competitor to another in a single geography.

“I think that period can be shortened, but you really need to focus on induction immersion,” Gollop said.

“What organisations need to do is understand that when they are recruiting, they’re not just meeting a skill need. They’re bringing someone from another location that needs to be immersed into company and geographic culture, and they need to have something mapped out to handle that,” he added.

Less stringent rules

Companies who wish to hire more foreign talent can take advantage of the government’s enhanced Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS) and Top Talent Pass Scheme (TTPS).

Chui said the enhanced QMAS scheme now  includes three new industries: business support, development and construction, and medical services. These fields increase the scheme’s coverage from 13 professions to 51. Annual quota under the QMAS has also been suspended.

The TTPS, meanwhile, is targeted towards talent with an annual income reaching $2.5m or above, or degree holders from the world’s top 100 universities.

“Successful applicants will be given [a] two-year stay in Hong Kong which they are free to change employment in between, or even establish a business in Hong Kong during their stay,” Chui said.

Still, the government’s easing of immigration rules to attract more foreign talent has its fair share of benefits and drawbacks.

“The influx of foreign workers can increase the diversity of the talent pool, providing access to workers with varied skills and experiences that were previously unavailable in Hong Kong. This could lead to greater innovation and productivity, potentially benefiting the overall economy,” Chui said.

“For instance, in the technology sector, the availability of skilled foreign workers could help fill the talent gap, allowing companies to innovate and develop new products and services more quickly,” he said.

The Manpower Group expert, however, underscored that the impact of the easing of immigration rules to the labour market will depend on the industries and occupations affected by it.

“Some industries may be more reliant on foreign talent than others. For example, the healthcare sector in Hong Kong has been facing a shortage of skilled workers, and the easing of immigration rules could potentially allow more caretakers to enter the job market, helping to address the shortage,” he said.

For Gollop, whilst the easing of immigration rules isn’t a solution in itself to the labour shortage of the city, the move helps show organisations that the government is leading the conversation about the need to be “more flexible.”

“Hong Kong needs to redefine a localisation strategy that began 15 plus years ago and return to a more internationally minded approach when it comes to talent. I think the scheme helps guide the conversation,” Gollop said.
 

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