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While public attention is drawn to the phenomenon of the so-called ‘post-80s’ or ‘post-90s’ generation, a recent Bauhinia study points out that the youth of Hong Kong are by no means a homogenous group.
Entitled Diversity of Youth Aspirations, the study surveyed close to 1,000 Hong Kong people aged between 16 and 35 through online and telephone polling as well as in-depth focus group sessions between August and October 2010. They were divided into three distinct age groups - 16 to 23, 24 to 29 and 30 to 35 - in the focus groups.
Bauhinia Chairman Anthony Wu said, “Clearly, our young people have independent thinking and their aspirations are not the same. Accounting for nearly 30% of Hong Kong’s population, young people are the driving force of our future development, and their role will become even more important in the face of an ageing population.
Many respondents had pragmatic considerations in respect of personal goals and career aspirations. On their personal goals, most of the respondents (57%) surveyed aspired ‘to own property or improve living environment’ and ’to accumulate the ‘first pail of gold’ in 10 years’ time, and over 50% of the respondents believed they could achieve their aspirations.
On their career aspirations, most respondents had preference for civil service, followed by multinational companies and freelance jobs.
Another noteworthy observation of the study is the very low priority the youth have accorded to ‘mainland exposure’ and ‘international exposure’, which were ranked as the least important elements of a good job. ‘Living in the Mainland’ was also at the bottom of the respondents’ 10-year goal list.
Commenting on the findings, the convenor of the youth study group and Bauhinia Director Winnie Ng said, “In the era of globalisation, one can never overlook the importance of regional and international exposure, which matters to our personal development and Hong Kong’s competitive edge.”
The study also found that only a small proportion of respondents interested in ‘entertainment and recreational services’, ‘arts and culture’ and ‘scientific research and development’ could work in these industries. To a certain extent, this has caused discontent among some respondents, especially the less educated and the lower-income groups, who may not have easy access to Hong Kong's economic pillars. They were most concerned about the income disparity and lack of opportunities in the society.
As for Hong Kong’s overall competitiveness, most respondents gave credit to its ‘excellent transportation and infrastructure’, ‘quality healthcare’ and ‘good law and order’. They considered Hong Kong as a prosperous metropolitan city with a relatively high standard of living.
On top of the list of areas where Hong Kong needs improvement was ‘clean air and green environment’, followed by ‘good governance’ (including leadership, public participation, accountability, innovation) (25.2%), ‘quality education and continuing education’ (23.8%) and ‘work-life balance’ (22.1%). This was in line with the findings of another Bauhinia study by Professor Michael Enright, who found that Hong Kong had lagged behind other economies with regard to these ‘higher order attributes’.
Education level and age seem to be an important factor on the way the youth look at the improvement areas of Hong Kong. While the better educated segment regarded governance as a key area for improvement, the less educated ones (e.g. form three or below) cared about healthcare services, economic prosperity and material living. The older segment was more concerned about housing and living environment, while the younger segment wanted improvements in arts and cultural activities as well as heritage conservation.
When asked about Hong Kong’s competitiveness in 10 years’ time, 36.5% of the respondents believed Hong Kong would remain more competitive than other major Asian cities, such as Seoul, Taipei and Singapore; 23.9% took a pessimistic view. But they became more pessimistic when Hong Kong was compared to the first-tier Mainland cities and world-class metropolises such as New York and London.
Regardless of their education backgrounds, there was a consensus among the respondents that Hong Kong needs to diversify its economic activities to sustain its competitiveness and provide more job opportunities instead of relying too much on the finance and property industries.
It is also worth noting that nearly half of the respondents had considered relocating to other cities in the next 10 years. Of them, 84% said they wanted to pursue a better quality of life.
This is consistent with a recent Gallup survey, which looks into the migration desires of different countries. According to Gallup, Hong Kong would lose 28% of its most educated people.
Ms Ng said, “Our youth these days have higher expectations of the society as well as their personal and career goals, but there is a gap between their expectations and the reality in the labour market.”
According to the latest statistics, the unemployment rate of those aged between 15 and 24 reached 13.9%, while the average rate was 4.2%. Against the backdrop of a continuous rise of the city’s GDP, the University Grants Committee’s statistics showed that the starting salary of university graduates in 2009 recorded a 4% drop from that of the 1997 graduates.
“In view of the diverse youth aspirations, there is no single policy that can fit all. We need a multi-pronged approach to create a better living environment and a more diversified economy with more diverse job opportunities for the younger generation,” Ms Ng said.
On governance, she saw the need to provide more platforms and opportunities for the youth to put forth their views and ideas in the policymaking and consultation process, as well as to pursue a career in public affairs.