When we refer to “youth” in this article we refer to the next generation of our workforce, including the ones that will become our future leaders. With an ever-changing geo-political and macro environment, there has been much discussion on the topic of the “supply” of youth skills versus the “demand” – or expectations – from organisations.
What Hong Kong organisations are demanding – Hopes & Fears 2021
Through our annual Hopes & Fears survey last year, we found that CEOs in Hong Kong are generally looking for transferable skills. Alongside digital capabilities, the skills that Hong Kong job seekers most frequently claim to possess are problem-solving (80%), adaptability (79%), ability to learn new skills quickly (78%), and collaboration skills (77%). However, they tend to be less confident when it comes to entrepreneurial ability (44%); science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) (44%); digital-related skills (57%); and creativity and innovation (58%).
We also discovered that the Hong Kong workforce is willing to upskill digitally due to concerns about losing their jobs to automation. What makes this finding even more interesting is that people in Hong Kong expect employers and individuals themselves to take the most responsibility for reskilling and skilling.
This is a significant finding, as it demonstrates how local employers are actively devoting resources and time so that their staff can meet the demands presented by the everchanging technology used in the workplace. Simultaneously, it also shows that Hong Kong workers feel that training is a shared obligation between employers and themselves. However, while willing to upskill by their own means, some people may not have access to the appropriate technology to do so.
Taking a closer look, we have observed two potential causes for this misalignment between youths’ skills and the skills in demand by organisations:
University Curriculum vs. Skills at Work: Even with the most well-recognised university degrees, the knowledge that undergraduates possess tends to be theory-based. Consequently, many undergraduates apply for internships as a stepping stone before joining the workforce, where they can learn skills that can be applied in their future career. Employers are looking for practicality and skills such as problem- solving and storytelling. These are critical to demonstrating workforce readiness, but are not easily acquired through four years at university in Hong Kong.
Consumer Technology vs. Enterprise Technology: Technology is continuing to reinvent the workplace. Most young people are accomplished users of consumer technology and social media platforms, from Amazon to Facebook, Google to Instagram. However, companies are seeking different skills, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, analytical tools such as Power BI, or programming languages such as Python.
Point of view
The direction we and other companies have established for our learning and development policy is to adopt a continuous learning approach. This instils a growth mindset and is indicative of how organisations are closing the gap between the skills youths have and those that they desire. With continuous access to learning resources, young people can develop new skills and gain knowledge even if there are drastic changes to enterprise technology. The demand for the skills we have highlighted will only continue to grow. Thus, without exposure to upskilling opportunities, the skills gap will only continue to widen.
How Hong Kong organisations are addressing the misalignment
We have accumulated success stories by working closely with our clients to address these skills gaps. Be it building a competency development model or implementing a reskilling and upskilling programme, we have helped companies identify and minimise gaps, to ensure a scalable business operation accommodating the needs of the future of work.
For young employees specifically, we make sure our fresh graduates undergo a rigorous onboarding programme. They not only receive guidance and training to assimilate them into the business, but are equipped with the essential skills to thrive in the early years of their careers. Even after they have onboarded and are performing their everyday tasks, we find it beneficial to continue to provide online training on various topics outside of their own job scope or competencies. Furthermore, we have found that sponsoring them to take up professional digital certification enables them to pick up more technical skills and makes them more marketable to clients, even as fresh graduates. Overall, this raises their consciousness of which skills are in demand by clients or specific industries, as well as grooms them to be more adaptable and agile.
In conclusion, organisations should take the responsibility to foster a competent and competitive workforce of the future. The next focus is for employers to implement a more standardised and efficient way to verify young people’s skills, regardless of education, applications, or interviews. Ultimately, this would allow our youths to be able to showcase their unique set of skills, while also providing them with the chance to further develop in core areas that come into demand after they have joined the workforce.