When given the opportunities to learn, access to technology or infrastructure remains a major hurdle for Hongkongers to improve their skills and future job prospects, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' recent report.
In the past year, prolonged periods of remote working had motivated many employees in the city to improve their digital skills, with 61% said they are ‘ready to learn new skills or completely retrain’. However, while 83% of Hong Kong respondents were getting training from their employers to develop their digital skills outside their normal duties, over half (55%) of respondents also indicated that their willingness to learn has been hindered by lack of technology devices or infrastructures such as broadband or reliable wifi. On a side note, 37% said they are unlikely to earn enough to pay for further education or retraining.
More than a third (36%) of respondents said they started the pandemic without adequate digital skills, and about half (51%) said their digital skills had improved during the pandemic.
Hong Kong workers felt that training is a shared responsibility between employers (76%) and themselves (74%) to keep up with changing technology.
Conversely, in mainland China, the majority of surveyed workers cited the country’s speed of innovation and connectivity to technology as a way of life, and an everyday experience of the Chinese workforce. On top of this, they have widespread use of technology devices, ease of access to infrastructures like broadband or Wi-Fi, coupled with an entrepreneurial culture and high consumption of consumer technologies, which lends to higher digital proficiency and use.
Employees' biggest concern
The pandemic has accelerated a number of workforce trends, but the biggest concern to job security is automation for workers in Hong Kong (56%) and mainland China (51%), compared to 60% globally. More than two in five respondents in Hong Kong agreed that traditional employment won't be around in the future (44%) and thought that the advances in technology might mean their job will be made obsolete in the next five years (41%).
The report explained that automation as a threat to jobs may be more profound in Hong Kong, because automation of products and services have been rapidly adopted in financial services, one of the largest industries in the city.
Hongkongers aged between 25-34 years old were the most confident about mastering new technology at work. Surprisingly, the least confident age group was 18-24 (69%).
As for industries, those working in the chemicals (100%), industrial manufacturing (90%), consumer goods (90%), and hospitality and leisure (88%) sectors were the most confident, while those working in the communications (25%), aerospace and defence (43%), engineering (64%), insurance (67%), and education (72%) were the least confident.
In addition to digital skills (57%), the Hong Kong workforce lacked entrepreneurial ability (44%), STEM skills (44%), and creativity and innovation (58%).
The demand for hybrid working
Employees in Hong Kong want to work remotely from now on. For people who could work remotely during the pandemic, half of them (48%) described their ideal work environment as wholly or mostly virtual working, which is lower than the global average (72%). One in three respondents (33%) preferred a mix of remote working and face to face. This is particularly prevalent in industries like professional services, where people are largely able to perform their jobs remotely using technology. A remarkably low percentage of 19% would like to go back to the traditional work environment.
If forced to choose, 61% of Hongkongers said they prefer flexibility (‘To be in control of my work, what I do and when I do it’) over supervision. This compares to 48% globally and 51% in mainland China. Diving deeper, the employee experience was more positive amid the pandemic when companies adopted hybrid working models.
Chinese employers report much higher confidence about the future world of work, whereas Europe and the US are more wary. Hong Kong stands at 44%, global 50% and 73% in mainland China have a positive outlook among those between 18 to 54 years of age. The positive infers to ‘Confident – I know I will be successful.’ Globally, 56% are less optimistic of long-term stable employment, by contrast only 39% feel this way in mainland China and Hong Kong.
In February 2021, PwC commissioned a survey of 32,517 members of the general public across 19 countries. Respondents included workers, business owners, contract workers, students, unemployed people looking for work, and those on furlough or who were temporarily laid off. Among the global respondents, 503 members are from Hong Kong and 1,511 members are from mainland China, covering different gender, age and working status.