Greater Bay Area - The Next Generation of Talent and Innovation in Asia

By Natellie Sun, Managing Director of Search and Selection at Randstad Greater China


  • The Greater Bay Area (GBA) has been a growing area of interest for both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments over the past two decades.

  • On its own, the nine cities in Guangdong and two special administrative regions in Hong Kong and Macau possess tremendous growth potential in technology innovation, smart manufacturing, and infrastructure.

The GBA is already Greater China’s most economically prosperous region and has reported a gross domestic product equivalent to Italy’s at $2.36 trillion. Many international and Asian businesses are flocking over to the GBA, to capitalise on the region’s growth potential and be at the forefront of change and innovation. Each city within the GBA has something unique to offer as well, which appeals to a wide variety of organisations looking to centralise and consolidate their research and development (R&D) efforts, manufacturing, and investments in Asia.


A former British colony, Hong Kong SAR is a multi-national city that bridges the east and the west. A city that prides itself on its bilingual and international talent pool, the financial hub helps facilitate the business interest and commercialisation within the GBA as well as with the Asia Pacific and the western markets. The Wealth Management Connect launched in September 2021 will bring an estimated combined fund flows valued at $46 billion to the region.


As one of the largest and fastest growing economies in China, Guangdong is home to the Shenzhen province as well as Zhuhai and Shantou, which makes it the perfect sandbox destination for companies to drive innovation and manufacture new products and services. The highly innovative ecosystem has attracted entrepreneurs from across the globe to kickstart and commercialise their ideas and concepts.


While the GBA seems to offer excellent growth opportunities for everyone, it has a fairly targeted approach in reality. In other words, its eyes are set on the prize. GBA schemes have been largely focused on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, biotechnology, and smart manufacturing. Infrastructure projects have also been designed to increase connectivity among the provinces to create a smart city network, facilitating a seamless flow of communication and talent.


Randstad Greater China’s recruitment strategies are aligned with the GBA’s developments and goals. In particular, we invest in enhancing our recruitment efforts and HR solutions to provide services in areas such as R&D, technology, as well as sales and marketing. Within the R&D realm, our recruiters are specialised in supporting the human capital developments in semiconductor and smart manufacturing.


Even as China is on a growth trajectory to overtake the U.S. as the largest economy in the world, organisations continue to face persistent challenges hindering their growth - one of them being talent.


Talent schemes to help organisations attract new talent to the GBA


The Chinese and Hong Kong governments have implemented new talent schemes and policies to support organisations’ recruitment efforts of hiring skilled talent in the GBA. Introduced in 2020, the Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS) aims to fast-track approvals for companies to admit non-local technology talent for R&D roles in Hong Kong. Similarly, the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme provides companies with more flexibility to hire experienced professionals with in-demand expertise and skills to work in the city.


The Chinese government has also revised the individual income tax rate from 45% to 15% for eligible foreign talent, to lure more professionals to relocate to the GBA for work. This 30% reduction in income tax would be a useful persuasion tool employers can deploy to draw more talent from other mainland China cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, as well as expatriate workers from locations such as Singapore, Canada, and Australia to move to the GBA.


These grants and schemes go a long way to attract new talent to work in the GBA. However, the onus is on the employers to ensure that they fulfil the last mile job match by engaging workers in interesting job content, meaningful work, and useful employee benefits to retain them.


While high salaries and bonuses are attractive, candidates want more than that


Confronting the persistent challenge of attracting and retaining skilled talent, numerous employers are offering jobs that often come with high salaries and bonuses. For instance, many organisations are willing to pay above the market average for talent who are trilingual, have a wide network of customers in Greater China, or are equipped with niche skills such as data science, software engineering, and manufacturing technology.


However, that may not suffice in persuading candidates to take up a job in the GBA.


Candidates’ expectations of what constitutes a good employer have become more complex over the years. The concept of loyally working in the same job from 9 to 5 every day for years no longer applies in the modern world. The dynamic between talent and employers has shifted significantly over the last two years, and there is a heightened sense of purpose that now governs people’s career choices and the work they choose to pursue.


In the 2022 Randstad Workmonitor Survey, 33% of the respondents working in Asia Pacific markets said that they have quit a job because it doesn’t fit into their personal lives. Workers in the Asia Pacific region were more likely to reject job offers if these didn’t include flexible hours (cited by 44%) or remote options (43%). More than half (56%) of the respondents in mainland China held such sentiments regarding remote working, and nearly as many (49%) felt this way about flexible hours.


Enhance diversity and social cohesion to boost the GBA’s workforce retention


The lack of diversity that has resulted in putting lives at risk can be traced as far back as to an invention in 1959 - the car seat belt. In the past, companies only used “male” crash test dummies, which were manufactured using the weight, height, and physics of an average male. It was not until 2004 when “female” crash test dummies were deployed, and even so, they were usually just a smaller size dummy that didn’t take the female anatomy into account.


In contemporary times, diversity and social cohesion are key ingredients of a flourishing innovation economy. As a melting pot of cultures, the GBA offers more than just job opportunities to people, and it is up to companies and employees to discover and leverage that.


A diverse population is an important asset for businesses as employers will have access to a greater range of talent, who would have insights into the motivations and demands of stakeholders and the customer base. As with the example of the car seat belt, companies with a diverse workforce would be able to commercialise a service or product that will be more relevant and useful to a larger population, leading to a more successful business.


Social cohesion is another area where companies in the GBA need to join forces on. Social cohesion is the “glue” that brings workers together and helps lessen the frictions often associated with management changes. It is more than just about “getting along” with one another, but being able to truly understand each other’s motivations, traits, and challenges. When employees recognise their similarities and acknowledge their differences, they are more likely to support one another and collaborate in overcoming barriers together.


Currently, organisations in the GBA are not actively integrating their talent into the community and the workplace. This would pose a culture shock to expatriates who have relocated for work, as many may feel lonely if they don’t have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with their co-workers or find a purpose for continuing their careers in the GBA.


Employers need to purposefully implement and develop HR policies and initiatives designed to help bring their people together in finding commonalities and similarities. Company events and offsites are a good way to deliver that. Leisure activities allow employees to relax and let their guard down, creating a chance for them to know one another on a more personal level. Organisations can also use this as an opportunity to recognise and reward their employees’ contributions.


Another way to build social cohesion is through collaborations and mentorship programmes. The InnoLife Healthtech Hub and Youth Employment Scheme provide companies in the GBA with the opportunities to collaborate with local universities and scientific research institutions, to drive R&D and innovation. Organisations that offer holistic coaching programmes and exciting avenues for employees to work on innovative projects together, are more likely to build a collective and socially cohesive workforce.


The Zero-COVID strategy will continue to present hurdles for organisations, but it won’t stop them from hiring more talent


Certain provinces of Greater China may still be in lockdown or face tight social distancing measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 nowadays. The zero-COVID policy, if continued as other countries open up - could diminish the benefits and significance of a highly connected network of cities, as talent will not be able to travel freely among the two special administrative regions and the nine cities in Guangdong.


Flexible work arrangement is an employee benefit that underlines a greater human need - the freedom to work wherever they want, whenever they want. Travel bubbles that use strict testing regimes to replace quarantine requirements among the GBA cities could help instigate a seamless flow of communication and talent, which would create more business avenues and strengthen social cohesion.


Until then, organisations will continue with their relentless pursuit of attracting skilled talent from around the world to GBA, driving innovation and organisational growth.