The growing trend for Hong Kong businesses to relocate to the mainland now includes the human resources (HR) profession. Tremendous opportunities are opening up for those who possess a competitive edge and, unlike in Hong Kong, where HR experts are often confined to recruitment and general policy implementation tasks, the role on the mainland can be far more strategic.
"Whenever people in the HR field ask if they should move north, I always say 'definitely' and tell them sooner rather than later," says Dennis Wong, China HRM committee member of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM). "You still have to be hands-on but mainland companies need our expertise in offering strategic advice about company direction. This capability comes with our experience and exposure in an international city like Hong Kong."
"China is now the world's factory," Mr Wong continues. "Things have changed over the past few years. Before, products were manufactured in China, now they are designed there too." With the help of CEPA, many companies are making the strategic move to China and taking advantage of its growing economic power.
Mr Wong exemplifies this change. He not only helps with implementation issues for the manufacturing company he works for in Shenzhen, but also provides strategic reviews and advice on its development and direction. He regularly discusses corporate issues with the production and finance teams. In Hong Kong, such a role is rarely open to someone with an HR background.
HR experts from Hong Kong are especially needed in China for the implementation and monitoring of corporate governance mandates. Their understanding of the concepts of social accountability and legal compliance are much prized. "Hong Kong people are also considered more professional," notes Mr Wong. "Their integrity and higher level of professional conduct are well respected by mainland employers."
All firms have their own internal issues and these can be further complicated when a mainland firm is family-run or transformed from state-owned status. Objective solutions are not easily found but an HR manager, if seen as a neutral, can prove to be invaluable. Significant help can also be given with input on quality assurance and English language skills, both of which are increasingly important for mainland businesses with international contacts.
In the process of ensuring quality, an HR manager from Hong Kong can educate the mainland team about how attention to quality assurance enhances efficiency and productivity and pays off in the long run. "The process, which involves changing mindsets, can be tough at first but is highly rewarding when you see the company advance in terms of professional and international standards," Mr Wong says.
Being an HR manager on the mainland requires good preparation. For example, understanding the Labour Ordinance in China is a must. Numerous courses are available but those concentrating on practical rather than theoretical issues are of most use.
Mr Wong recommends taking training in the local environment such as in Shanghai and points out that the Labour Bureau in China offers useful information on related courses. He also suggests taking an MBA or EMBA course that has links with a mainland university and provides classroom hours to ensure more relevant and practical training and the chance to make new contacts. "In the HR profession, having a community to support one another and a network to share resources is crucial," he adds.
To work in China, it is vital to have a multicultural outlook. Any company will employ people from different regions and provinces, so good communication skills and fluency in Mandarin are essential. A positive attitude towards learning will help to create smoother cooperation and better teamwork. As Mr Wong advises, "Do not think you know it all. Respect the locals; they are the people who implement your plans. Motivate and set an example for them."
When identifying other selling points, Mr Wong notes that Hong Kong people are generally more self-confident and presentable than their mainland counterparts. "An open mind, outgoing personality and personal integrity are also key elements for success in China," he says.
In terms of specific positions, most HR professionals from Hong Kong are hired as senior managers on the mainland. Annual salaries range from HK$800,000 to HK$1 million. For those at middle management level, salaries start at around HK$600,000. The range of salaries for similar positions in Hong Kong can be considerably higher but the gap will close within five years, according to Mr Wong, who thinks pay is only one factor to consider.
When reviewing what he has achieved since moving to the mainland, Mr Wong speaks with an understandable degree of professional pride. "I am very proud of my team in China. We may have a heavy workload but we have the total respect and trust of the boss and the rest of the staff. We have influence over the development of the company and can make a significant difference as it grows. That is the biggest reward."