COVER STORY - Mobilizing Our Future Workforce

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Education policy has become a hot topic globally as drastic shifts in business change the way we think about the future workforce. As Hong Kong gets ready to welcome a new chief executive, we look at some of AmCham’s education goals for the year ahead, and beyond

By Paula Sailes


“In the future, will there be lots of robots?”

That’s a question on the minds of a group of bright and excited teenage students in a conference room at Google’s Hong Kong offices where they ask how automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will change their lives.


Barbara Navarro, left, Google’s Director of Government Relations & Public Policy for APAC, speaks to local students in a “Conversation with an AmCham Leader.”

Their host is Barbara Navarro, Google’s Director of Government Relations and Public Policy for APAC and an AmCham member. She explains that AI is nothing to be scared of – it will change the future of work and free up human brains to do more complex, non-automated tasks, perhaps even making the working week shorter.

In a roomful of digital natives – millennials who have never known life without the internet or mobile technology – Navarro uses an example that some of the students find mind-boggling.

“When I was your age, we had to memorize telephone numbers or carry them around in a little book,” she says. “Now, with all that information stored on a device, the part of our brains we used to remember telephone numbers is free to work on something else.”

Inspiring future leaders

The visit to Google’s Hong Kong offices is part of AmCham’s “Conversations with a Leader” program, started three years ago by Frank Wong, President of Scholastic Asia and former Chair of the Chamber’s Education Affairs Group (EAG).

“The one resource that AmCham has in abundance is our pool of executive leaders,” Wong says. “For many students from modest backgrounds, they seldom get the opportunity to hear from a senior business executive and to learn from his or her career journey.”

“If the program could inspire a few of the students to strive to become leaders themselves, then that’s an easy way to give back to the community.”


Frank Wong, President, Scholastic Asia

Creating a multi-skilled workforce

Computerization and machine-learning are just some of the changes taking place that will shape the future of work. At the same time, globalization and increased connectivity are making traditional methods of teaching outdated.

While it’s impossible to predict exactly what jobs will look like twenty years from now, AmCham’s Education Affairs Group has prioritized three areas to help ensure Hong Kong students are prepared for the labor market.

Diana David, Regional Director of Executive Education at Financial Times and EAG Chair, explains:

“Fostering a global mindset, innovation literacy and the future of work are 2017 priorities. This came from interviewing local and international business and HR leaders in the chamber. Anecdotally you hear across start-ups and established businesses that it is difficult to hire people in Hong Kong but we wanted to drill down into specifics to see where we could make an impact.”

As a chamber of commerce whose members collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff, AmCham is uniquely positioned to pinpoint the skills employers are looking for. In their mission to create a forward-thinking, multi-talented workforce, one topic comes up time and again: global competency.

Cultivating a global mindset

Sean O. Ferguson is an AmCham governor and serves as vice chair of the Education Affairs Group, the chamber’s strategic advisory body for educational matters. He’s also Associate Dean of Master’s Programs and Director of MBA Programs at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s School of Business and Management.

Ferguson says that developing a global mindset not only improves career outcomes for students but also helps secure Hong Kong’s future as an international business hub.


Sean O. Ferguson, Associate Dean of Master’s Programs and Director of MBA Programs, HKUST

“Between here and Singapore, these are really the only two locations where Asia-Pacific headquarters of multinational corporations are going to be in this part of the world,” he says. “In order for Hong Kong to continue to thrive, we need people who can work, not only in a Hong Kong context, not just in a Chinese context, but also in a global context.”

Diana David agrees, “Hong Kong is home to many regional and global business headquarters. These companies are keen to hire people with the ability to speak foreign languages, work in a multi-cultural environment with people of different nationalities, and who can understand and communicate across cultures and markets.”

To this end, AmCham is advocating for additional investment for Hong Kong students to study abroad and supporting additional places in international schools which have a diverse mix of students. It’s also spreading the word through its various outreach programs.

“Even exposure is useful,” David explains. “That’s why we invite students into the workplace for our ‘Conversations with an AmCham Leader’ series and support secondary school students for ‘My Future Project’ internships in multinational companies.”

Governmental support

On July 1st Carrie Lam will formally be sworn in as Hong Kong’s new chief executive. In her campaign manifesto, she identified education as a key area for development and pledged an extra HK$5 billion in annual funding.

Virginia Wilson, CEO of the Child Development Centre and Chair of AmCham’s Education Committee, says money isn’t the problem. Instead, Hong Kong needs to have a long-term vision and to take a holistic approach to defining what Hong Kong’s education system should be.

“Hong Kong is branded ‘Asia’s World City’ and strives to become Asia’s education hub, but there’s no congruent policy that helps kids and parents from early to tertiary education,” she explains.

“Hong Kong has a great ability to adapt, and people are certainly capable of making sound decisions, but there just isn’t enough information out there,” she adds. “It needs a very, very big revamp that looks at the whole picture and not just the parts.”


Virginia Wilson, CEO, The Child Development Centre

Getting out of the classroom

Back at Google’s offices in Causeway Bay – a quick show of hands reveals that more than half of the visiting students are interested in jobs at the California-based tech giant.

A sign that Hong Kong students are open to broadening their horizons when it comes to future careers. As Google’s Barbara Navarro puts it:

“It’s great to be at school or at university and learn there, but that’s not real life. You never know how one conversation may change someone’s mind, and we should not underestimate that a one-hour talk can make people think a lot.”


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