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Harnessing a world of experience

By Alex Liu

Hong Kong, 14 May 2021: It is worth noting that more than 80% of the young legal professionals in Boase Cohen & Collins attended foreign universities at some point in their studies. Most of them obtained degrees at overseas institutions while the remainder went for a term or longer on student exchange programmes.

Their destinations included Vancouver and Toronto in Canada, Melbourne in Australia and some six different cities in the United Kingdom. One young lady spent a year studying in Stockholm, Sweden, another enjoyed a semester in Copenhagen in Denmark. They all completed their post-graduate law qualifications in Hong Kong before joining our firm.

This trend is hardly unique to BC&C or the legal profession or, indeed, Hong Kong. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, roughly five million students worldwide were studying outside their home countries, more than double the 2.1 million who did so in 2000 and more than triple the number of mobile students in 1990.

Studying abroad is a win-win for all involved – the students, the host country and prospective employers. The University of California Merced has compiled some illuminating statistics about graduates who have studied overseas:

  • They are almost twice more likely to land a job than their peers who stay at home.
  • On average, they command 25% higher starting salaries.
  • Some 84% felt their experience abroad helped them build valuable skills for the job market.
  • Around 80% believed they could better adapt to diverse work environments.
  • A significant 97% felt overseas experience had improved their maturity.
  • And 96% said it had increased their self-confidence.

For would-be employers, a job applicant who has studied overseas is an attractive proposition. First and foremost, they’ve shown enthusiasm simply by getting on a plane and seeing another part of the world. They usually have enhanced cultural awareness. Being abroad has more than likely improved their problem solving skills and taught them self-sufficiency. Chances are, as well, they will be more open-minded and display greater adaptability.

In a similar category are so-called “returnees” – young professionals with a Hong Kong heritage who were either born overseas or moved there with their families at a young age and are now back working in the territory. Several of our legal team fit this description. Like their locally born but overseas-educated colleagues, they bring a cross-cultural background and international mindset to the workplace environment.

Generally speaking, returnees are going to have an increasingly important role to play in Hong Kong’s white collar professions. A report by the Labour and Welfare Bureau released in 2019 predicted this city will have a shortage of 34,600 skilled workers with university education by 2027. According to The 2019 Hays Asia Overseas Returnees Report, almost half of employers (47%) are not confident in locating talent with the skills they need to meet operational requirements while nine in ten (89%) foresee that skills shortages will hamper the effective operation of their businesses in the coming year.

Aside from returnees and those who ventured overseas to study, who else among Hong Kong’s native population can bring international experience to the workplace? Gap year travel is another avenue. Young professionals who take a year out either before or after further education and use it to broaden their horizons often have fresh perspective and increased maturity. In short, they are more worldly-wise.

One of my colleagues took time off after her law degree to teach English and then go travelling through South America before returning to Hong Kong for her post-graduate law studies. It was a fantastic life experience, every bit as important as academic qualifications.

Work exchange initiatives are another valuable resource. As explained in previous blogs, BC&C is a member of Ally Law, a global grouping of independent law firms helping clients meet their international legal and business challenges. In a recent video conference call there was positive talk about reviving a lawyer exchange programme between firms once Covid-19 subsides. My Partners and I would give this our full support.

In the post-pandemic world, Hong Kong will need to reassert its international competitiveness, knowledge and expertise. Employees with overseas experience, utilising their enhanced language skills and cross-cultural awareness, will be even more valuable. At BC&C, we are fortunate to have such young people.

A Partner in BC&C since 2000, Alex Liu’s key areas of practice include commercial and corporate litigation, investigations by governmental bodies such as the SFC, ICAC and Commercial Crime Bureau, insolvency and debt restructuring, intellectual property, defamation, property and commercial contract drafting. He can be contacted at alex@boasecohencollins.com.

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