Concern is growing over the ability of Hong Kong’s education system to produce graduates with the skills required by its economy.

Hong Kong children start school early, and while there is a well-established government-run education system, every parent who can afford the fees wants to send their child to a private school. It is not unknown for under-fives to be given intensive tuition to help them through formal entrance exams for private kindergartens.

Once into the system, public or private, mounds of homework and regular and frequent testing is the norm, but, the city’s employers are lamenting, the finished article is scarcely fit to make a positive contribution to the workplace.

In September, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released the results of a survey conducted to establish just how well education systems do the job they’re supposed to. Hong Kong didn’t quite rate an F, but did come in well behind Singapore, Japan and South Korea.

“Years of toiling over excessive homework and rote learning to cope with make-or-break exams have failed to prepare Hong Kong’s youngsters for the workplace,” observed one jaundiced commentator.

It’s a perplexing problem for Hong Kong’s recruiters, who have to dig deep to find qualified staff in a population that numbers just under eight million.

“School leavers need to be able to think on their feet, and not wait to be given solutions,” said Doris Lam, associate director at Elliott Scott HR in Hong Kong. “They need to be able to work in a team, and not just think about themselves. Plus, there are all the other necessary qualities – communicating, creativity, language ability and even social etiquette.”

Lam criticised the Hong Kong education system for limiting critical thinking and creativity.

“The ‘right’ answers are usually provided, rather than students being encouraged to explore multiple possible solutions,” she said.

“The time and effort spent on preparing for exams would generate much more meaningful learning if it were spent on play – something schooling in Hong Kong really misses out on. People are too busy chasing after academic results rather than personal, holistic development.”

She suggested that HR professionals should run workshops with high schools and universities and share insights on what the recruitment market and employers are looking for in terms of attributes from new graduates.

“As an example, at Elliott Scott we stage an ‘Emerging Leaders’ event where we invite a senior successful HR leader to share how they got to where they are in their career, what challenges they face and how they would advise young people.”

While it may have trailed its Asian rivals in the EIU survey, Hong Kong is persevering in fields such as vocational training. A Vocational Training Institute was set up back in 1982, and runs courses in diverse subjects such as business administration, construction and printing.

However, a lack of good talent persists. Recent research for the Hays Asia Salary Guide revealed that three-quarters of Hong Kong employers felt they couldn’t get the right talent to achieve their business objectives, while half thought a skills shortage would hamper their operations.

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