Businesses Feel the Pain of Brain Drain

The recent wave of emigration is leading to a shortage of skilled workers and impacting businesses of all sizes, according to the findings of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce’s (HKGCC) recent survey. 

The recent wave of emigration is leading to a shortage of skilled workers and impacting businesses of all sizes, according to the findings of Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce’s recent survey.

A total of 38% of respondents said they had been adversely affected by the loss of emigrating workers to varying degrees, ranging from “medium” (24%), “high” (12%), to “very high” (2%). 

Although more than half (58%) of respondents indicated that they expect the emigration-induced turnover rate to stabilize in 2022, some 35% of respondents were less optimistic and anticipated more skills shortages. 

Chamber Chairman Peter Wong said Hong Kong’s success is built on its highly skilled workforce, making the loss of human capital all the more concerning, especially in the face of an ageing population. 

“Hong Kong is facing an exodus of educated workers on a scale not seen since the early 1990s and this will have a material knock-on impact on the economy. Given the importance of human capital in Hong Kong’s service-driven and knowledge-based economy, there is real cause for concern if we cannot stem the current brain drain,” said Wong. 

The loss in talent spans a broad range of skills, from engineering and technical services, to finance and accounting, to information technology. 

Middle-aged employees were more likely to emigrate as respondents indicated that “30-39” and “40-49” were the two dominant age groups leaving Hong Kong. In terms of organizational hierarchy, middle management and first-level management were the two groups more likely to depart, compared to those in rank and file and senior management positions.

“The gap created by the departure of mid-level employees is going to pose challenges for businesses, since they are essentially the backbone of a company. In addition to the pecuniary costs incurred in hiring and training of new employees, there are other hidden costs such as time costs and lost business development that have to be factored in as well,” Wong added. 

Large companies are tackling the issue head-on with 61% opting to “strengthen succession planning and recruitment efforts” while 51% said they would “increase automation and digitalization.” By comparison, only 28% and 35% of SMEs indicated that they would make similar investments respectively. At the same time, big corporations were prepared to up their budgets with 39% and 37% of respondents considering “increasing pay & benefits” and “retention planning” respectively. The corresponding response by SMEs were respectively 13% and 11%. 

“The global competition for talent is already acute and Hong Kong cannot afford to lose the race to attract and retain talent. To stem the tide of departing workers, it is essential that the Government regularly review its policies to ensure that Hong Kong remains an attractive place to live, work, study and raise a family,” Wong said. 

About the survey
A total of 220 companies responded to the Chamber’s survey conducted from 10-21 January 2022. Slides can be downloaded here