Local IT leaders say 2019 HK Budget shortchanges tech training

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Hong Kong legislator for IT Charles Mok expressed disappointment in the 2019-2020 budget, describing it as “old wine in a new bottle”.

“Although the new Budget speech made a few mentions on attracting tech talents several times, it has failed to implement new initiatives for upskilling our local workforce which is a priority in other countries,” Mok said in a press statement a few hours after Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan delivered his budget speech last Wednesday.

Mok expressed “deep disappointment” towards the government’s continued inclination to emphasize R&D and infrastructure projects, while completely disregarding the pressing demand from the ICT sector and frontline workers to address the shortage of local technology talents and fill the skills gap in the market.

“It is lacking the commitment to help mid-career professionals adapt, upskill and transform,” he added that neighboring Singapore, which released its budget 10 days earlier, “placed strong focus on economic transformation for its companies and people”.

“Around HK$21 billion has been dedicated to capability-building measures for Singaporean workers and mid-career switchers. The newly created Professional Conversion Programme also targets to help Singaporeans gain skills in new growth areas such as blockchain, embedded software, and prefabrication,” Mok said.

In stark contrast, Mok said Hong Kong’s Continuing Education Fund provides only a HK$20,000-subsidy which is far from enough to help IT workers upgrade themselves and find quality jobs.

Wanted: financial tech and cybersecurity talents

Likewise, the Hong Kong Computer Society (HKCS) noted that development of IT talents, particularly in the field of financial technology and cybersecurity, has been overlooked in the new budget.

“The training for financial technology talents should be further intensified... Financial technology has already become a new focus of the information technology industry in Hong Kong. Therefore, the government must strive to train sufficient financial and technical talents to encourage the establishment of financial technology-based venture companies to develop areas, including mobile payments, cross-border payments, virtual banking systems, and other required information technology support,” the HKCS said in a statement.

Furthermore, HKCS said the government should be devoted in information security.

“Information security is of great importance to financial technology, especially in the cross-border financial operations, protecting user privacy and network security is inevitably important,” HKCS said.

“In addition to the financial industry, information technology has become more heavily deployed by a wider scope of industries during their development, while IT has also become inseparable in smart cities and other important infrastructure operations

“Therefore, the government is recommended to actively train more talents in cyber security, and support relevant researches and enterprises, in order to strengthen the information security strength of Hong Kong,” it added.

Cyberport and HKSTP welcome new funding

Government-backed Cyberport and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) are grateful for the fresh funding that came their way.

“I believe the proposed expansion will further support Cyberport’s efforts in promoting the growth of digital technology, facilitating digital transformation and development of smart living,” said Cyberport chairman Lee George Lam of the newly allocated HK$5.5 billion set aside for building Cyberport 5.

“The additional floor area of 66,000sqm will provide office, Smart-Space, conference and information technology facilities in a more comprehensive manner,” says Peter Yan, Cyberport CEO. “It will also enable Cyberport to accommodate more quality technology companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs.”

In addition to the expansion plan, Yan added that Cyberport will carry out a series of works to improve the environment and facilities of the existing waterfront park in order to create more green space for the public.

On the other hand, HKSTP welcomed the injection of HK$2 billion to the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) for the announced Re-industrialization Funding Scheme.

“HKSTP will fully leverage the government’s Re-industrialization Funding Scheme and its support for the construction of dedicated facilities for advance manufacturing at industrial estates,” said HKSTP in its press statement.

Meanwhile, below is a summary of comments gathered by Computerworld Hong Kong from the local IT community:

Charles Mok, legislator for IT, HK Government SAR

There is nothing new about I&T items. A little bit new is the provision of HK$16 billion for UGC-funded universities to enhance their campus facilities. It is also fine to see the allocation of funding for the development of Cyberport 5.

Yet, the government still continues to repeat the same thing in terms of throwing money into infrastructure and research but without taking care of the immediate needs of the IT industry—difficulty of hiring talent and upskilling people such as mid-career professionals. I think the government has heard from us about the pressing need for upskilling people. My guess is no government department wants to pick it up.

The government has a lack of understanding of what we need. It will typically do the right thing but only too late. 

The Financial Secretary proposed some I&T measures in this year’s Budget, which had been requested by us for many years, with some of them over 10 years. For example, reforming government procurement policy especially “lower price wins”; the development of geospatial data platform; and, the expansion of the Technology Voucher Program.

We have talked about Technology Voucher Program for more than 10 years, but it was only launched two years ago. On the geospatial data front, the government mentioned it in the last four Budget Speeches and Policy Address. The government finally earmarked HK$300 million in this year’s Budget Speech.

Rating based on a scale of 0 – 10:  5

Ted Suen, president, Hong Kong Computer Society

I am happy to see the budget focuses on the development of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, smart city and financial technology. I welcome the government to strengthen the cultivation of IT talents, encourage universities and enterprises in commercializing and transferring their R&D results, create a good venture capital investment environment, expand talent capacity to attract more IT talents to come to Hong Kong, and encourage enterprises to introduce innovative technology to improve efficiency. I am also appreciated to see the Government is launching various policies to cultivate local talents and attract foreign professionals.

The Government has responded positively to the recommendations of the Hong Kong Computer Society. The Government's procurement policy encourages the use of local innovation, and it is conducting a mid-term review of the technology talent entry scheme. To relieve the hurdles and obstacles for IT development, the Government is also examining and reviewing existing laws which are outdated as IT environment develops. And the HKCS appreciates the prompt actions taken by the Government in response to the industry feedback.

I welcome the Government's decision to remove the hurdles and obstacles, and examine and review the outdated laws as technological environment evolves. However, there are yet any specific details and relevant timetable. Therefore, I hope the Government can announce further implementation details and work progress as soon as possible.

Rating based on a scale of 0 – 10:  8

Caption

Prof. Witman Hung, executive chairman, Chinese Big Data Society, and vice president,  Hong Kong Industry-University-Research Collaboration Association

The overall impression of this year’s budget is that it continued this administrations’ increased focus on innovation and technology, which is positive and what we need for Hong Kong. Overall, most of the items it mentioned are worth doing and make sense.I am pleased to see the HK$5.5 billion for Cyberport 5, which is indeed a pressing need in a place like Hong Kong where cost of space is way too high for tech companies. It matches the growth we observed in the Cyberport community such as Fintech. I am also pleased to see the increase of Corporate Venture Fund of HK Science Park from HK$50M to HK$200M. But I do think they should not limit the investment only to the tenants and incubatees but rather to the whole tech startup community. After all, it is a catalyst to investment and contributes to match the long time shortage of early stage investment in Hong Kong, and is done on a matching basis under commercial principle. So why limit its scope?

While nurturing talent is definitely something we need to do, distributing HK$1M for each aided school without changing the mindset and management philosophy will not following the same failure of ICT support funding projects since MR. CH Tung’s days. We should critically review our education curriculum and not just distribute money to schools which varies in their understanding and maturity of technology in education as well as STEM education. One other area missing is the encouragement of an Industry- led “Industry University and Research Institution Collaborations”. While HK$2B for re-industrialization is not bad, it could easily goes to just improvement of manufacturing lines instead of leveraging our universities and research institutions’ outputs. While the HK$800M for R&D and realization of R&D and the HK$8M for tech start-up support scheme for universities are all nice (but insufficient in the tech start-up part), it is still a “push” approach while university wants to realize their R&D. We should encourage more “pull approach” which is Industry and market led, instead of professor led. Another thing that is missing is the encouragement of cross border collaborations which should be reflected in the various funding schemes, especially under the new Greater Bay Area (GBA) context.

Rating based on a scale of 0 – 10:  7 in the sense it didn’t have the “wow” factor like last year and not enough GBA initiatives but nevertheless a pragmatic budget with reasonable emphasis on tech and innovation.

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