Importing talent critical for an innovative society

Updated: 2018-05-11 07:58

(HK Edition)

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Pointing out contrasting fortunes of Singapore and Japan, Naubahar Sharif welcomes talent scheme to be launched, especially if local talents are retained at the same time

A range of policies affect drivers of innovation. Among the most important are policies that support the development of a skilled workforce which can generate new ideas and technologies and bring them to market, as well as adapt to technological changes across society. Hong Kong - a small, open economy - requires talented people to generate new knowledge with which to create and implement innovations. Such individuals can also help Hong Kong absorb new innovations.

To develop human capital and promote innovation, Hong Kong must identify a wide array of skills and create an education and training environment in which individuals can choose appropriate skills which they can acquire and use optimally at work. What is Hong Kong to do? The two main options - which can be pursued simultaneously - are attracting foreign talent and retaining talented local people.

Importing talent critical for an innovative society

Attracting foreign talent would acknowledge the international mobility of highly skilled individuals that has become a defining feature of the global innovation landscape. Few innovation activities are conceivable if there is a lack of global connections and mobile talent. This is particularly the case in science, where progress relies on circulation of knowledge, interaction between scientists and the exchange of diverse views and evidence. Even in business and academia, foreign staff are often sought for their specific knowledge and abilities. Mobility enables talented individuals to exploit opportunities abroad, further develop their human capital, fulfill their vocations and improve their livelihoods.

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government rolled out a pilot, three-year Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS) - a fast-track arrangement to bring in overseas and Chinese mainland research and development talent. At first the scheme will be open to tenants in and incubatees of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and Cyberport which are engaged in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies or material science.

The scheme aims to streamline admission procedures and shorten processing time. At the application stage, companies and institutes must demonstrate that the talent they seek is in short supply or not readily available in Hong Kong. This arrangement is designed to safeguard local work opportunities while eliminating the requirement that technology companies and institutes demonstrate local recruitment failure every time they seek to bring in talent. Under the scheme a technology company or institute that applies to the Immigration Department to sponsor employment visas or entry permit applications for non-local talent can expect to complete processing within just two weeks.

TechTAS is not the first scheme Hong Kong has introduced to attract foreign and mainland talent. Over the past 25 years, other schemes have been introduced with varying degrees of success (one example being the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals). The key is that, as an open, internationally reliant small economy, Hong Kong must look outward to attract foreign talent if it is to maintain its success.

Two of Hong Kong's Asian neighbors present contrasting stories to illustrate the importance of openness to foreign talent. On the one hand Japan, a relatively closed economy, has often resisted attracting non-Japanese talent. The country however faces a grim prognosis of an aging population that lacks a vibrant base of either highly talented foreigners or local youngsters to fuel future economic growth. On the other hand, Singapore has launched a multitude of schemes over the past two decades through which it has attracted both regional (notably from India) and other foreign talent, which has driven its forays into new areas of innovation and technology (such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals).

If Hong Kong is to remain prosperous, it must align its ambitions in innovation and technology development with similarly sensible policies to attract talent from abroad, especially given that global flows of highly qualified individuals, students, scientists, and engineers have increased steadily over the past two decades.

Yet, while looking outward, Hong Kong must not neglect to nurture and retain local talent. Notwithstanding the relatively few individuals who fall into this category, it is worth the government's while to give them sufficient opportunities to contribute to innovation and technology development locally. TechTAS acknowledges this insofar as it requires applicant technology companies and institutes to employ one new local full-time employee plus two local interns engaging in technology-related work for every three non-local recruits admitted. This requirement will, it is hoped, allow two birds to be killed with one stone and offer a launchpad for the careers of many local science and engineering graduates from our local universities who have hitherto seen only limited opportunities in innovation and technology.

(HK Edition 05/11/2018 page13)