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The Hong Kong Crisis: Why Fresh University Graduates Are Earning Too Little for What Their Education Time's Worth

Steve Safarowic
June 13, 2019
Last updated on
March 13, 2024


Uni isn't cheap.

You know that. Also, the thousands of dollars of debt backing students' lives up proves it.

Students get into university in order to land lucrative careers but employers look for experience. According to a research conducted by South China Morning Post, job opportunities in the market had almost tripled from 247,300 in 1987 to 916,800 in 1997. Those figures have evolved to 1.44 million jobs in 2017 and to this day, the numbers keep rising.

The more important question is, if there are so many jobs in the industry, why is it that students are unable to land their dream careers? And the ones that do, why are they underpaid for what it's worth? Going to college is like making an investment towards your future, and when you make median wages of 12k HKD to 15k HKD a year or even less, it can get really disheartening. Let's dive into the whys and the what to do about it below.

Oversaturation of Degree and Publicly-funded University Courses

Just like the competitiveness in the job market, the education industry is evolving. Many degree courses and publicly funded courses are opening up these days, doing away with the uniqueness of courses and producing what we call "cookie-cutter" graduates. The statistics also prove this, as the number of students who sign up for university courses had gone up from 65,339 to 89,603 between the academic years 2017 and 2018.

Mismatch in Skill sets

Ever heard of that friend who majored in IT and Computing but ended up becoming an Uber driver? We're not judging but the key reason for unemployment or lack of career growth is a mismatch in skillsets. In today's world of Big Data and AI, employers don't merely want coding skills, they want more. In short, they want students who are able to adapt and grow with the evolving trends. For example, students may possess the right qualifications but lack the skills required specifically by the business.

According to Yeah Kim Leng, professor of Sunway University Business School Economics: "Slow industrial upgrading, weak technological absorption, and the labour-intensive nature of industries, particularly the services sector, are some of the factors contributing to the slack market for fresh graduates."

"On the supply-side, there is an oversupply of liberal arts and general degree graduates and less so in science, technology, engineering and mathematics required by the technology and knowledge-driven industries."

"Even traditional sectors such as banking and finance, wholesale and retail trade and professional services are being reshaped by changing competitive factors which require the skill-sets taught in the new disciplines associated with the digital economy," he continued.

Even Chan-wai Keung, Director of New Century Forum chipped in with industry and employment insights: "Since the handover [in 1997], the median wage actually dropped 3.1 per cent. We saw no improvement. Instead, our younger generation, especially those born in the 1990s, seem to be worse off than the older generation. In a sense, we are wasting our resources in training so many university students."

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Rising Costs of Real Estate, Trade, and Finance

Employers are unable to offer high pay-packages to fresh graduates due to the rising costs of real-estate and the condition of trade and finance. Unlike other countries like India and Malaysia, Hong Kong had fallen behind in the technology arena for years and hence took a more traditional approach towards building the economy.

This resulted in lower salaries for graduates. But things are changing now as the tech hub is evolving, especially with careers looking lucrative in the Greater Bay Area.

Lack of Tech Skills

For students who do graduate at the top of their classes, they are lacking in tech skills.Studies show that due to the lack of relevant tech skills, fresh graduates are applying for jobs in low-paid and unskilled positions and that the growth in graduate workers exceeded the number of skilled jobs in administrative and professional roles.

Students are also getting poor career advice when it comes to applying for jobs based on their skills, attributes, and how their acquired skill sets relate to various industry verticals. The problem here is not just the lack of tech skills but also how they are applied for breaking into businesses. Employers look for candidates with real-life work experience instead of taking fresh graduates. Therefore graduates need to be aware of the skills that are in demand and what they are missing.

According to a McKinsey study, employers mentioned how there's a huge gap between the expectations of companies versus what the students offered. Ngai from McKinsey stated how Hong Kong parents encouraged their kids to pursue careers in education and training like banking, accounting, and law and that the city was lagging behind in youth who were working in fields related to engineering, technology, and creativity.

There's also the problem of not being able to train talent in a diversified way, which tailors to various industry verticals. This type of training is very much being focused on in South Korea and Singapore. This "lack" of skilled talent that is relevant to the market results in a disconnect between education and the real world.

Another notable difference is how Hong Kong students aren't very outspoken compared to their international counterparts, despite having similar skill sets. Add to that the wrong mentality for career prep, lack of self-learning and intrinsic motivation, and a lack of formal training in digital skills such as Google Analytics and there you have it - a recipe for disaster.

Final Thoughts

If students don't take the initiatives to upskill according to industry trends or what the market demands, future career prospects are going to look bleak. The solution to this lies in studying, not hard but smart and learning in-demand skills required by the industry and not what Hong Kong general education curriculums teach.

18/06/2019 updated: Xccelerate is now promoting the "Tech Talent Program" which offers half price scholarship of full time software engineering course to fresh graduates. The quota of this program is very limited. If you are interested, click here and click Apply Now. Insert the promotion code : #Fresh Tech. Our Admission Manager will contact you and send you the details of the program as soon as possible.

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