Are Hong Kong Data Scientists up to the Job?

Robert Sheffield 01.02.2019

One of the biggest trends to emerge last year was the focus across industries on enterprise machine learning.

As we move into 2019, the tools and techniques to support the practical application of AI are becoming highly sought after. As businesses look to automate pattern detection, prediction and decision making to drive efficiencies and provide differentiation, we are seeing significant investment in IT talent across industries from manufacturing to financial services.

Whilst the number of job searches for Data Scientists to support AI and automation technologies continues to rise in Hong Kong, we are seeing a shortage of homegrown talent supply. Overseas candidates are more frequently placed in these positions, especially if they have a Master’s degree or PhD. From the current candidate pool, it is more common for Hong Kong Bachelor of Computer Science graduates to have gone straight into employment rather than to have pursued higher studies. One could ask whether the diverging education paths of the Chinese and Hong Kongese is accounting for the supply discrepancy. But is that the real issue?

Some interesting debate is surfacing on the adequacy of computer science and data science Bachelor’s degree content. Many in the tech industry are calling for machine learning to be a required component rather than an elective course within Bachelor’s degrees. Others disregard the idea of relying on a degree to ascertain capability. Even if AI coursework has been completed, it doesn’t mean that students will know how to implement it in real life. One view from Forrester is that AI may need to be developed in the same way human talent is developed – with trial and error, on the job training and learning. 

Even the title, Data Scientist, remains ambiguous in the Hong Kong market. Different organisations across industries have different definitions and job descriptions. Data science became one of the highest-paid IT professions in 2018. Roles that require skills such as natural language processing, for example, can command HK$1.3m salaries. But we are also seeing other Data Scientist roles - focused on segmentation - only offering salaries of HK$300k. Clearly there is a need to define the organisational need and avoid over-inflating titles. The IT foundations must be in place before the added value roles are worthy of the investment and hiring clients should be aware of their development curve status.

For candidates, the clear message is that new roles offering high earnings potential are not accessible with legacy skillsets. Digital security, machine learning, natural language processing and AI project experience are all valuable in today’s market. Upskilling through courses and gaining on the job experience are the best ways to future-proof your career.

If you would like to discuss trends, roles or opportunities in IT, please feel free to contact me at echeng@morganmckinley.com.hk

Robert Sheffield's picture
Managing Director - Greater China
rsheffield@morganmckinley.com.hk

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