Gathering talents

Gary Kou – President of the General Assembly of the Macao Professional Development Association

A growing call for local talents in the city is at odds with the data available on what talents are needed, and there is also a lack of policies as to how the talent will be put to use. Although continuing education loans and subsidies are a good start, Gary Kou – President of the General Assembly of the Macao Professional Development Association – thinks that a qualifications framework, as well as a centre for people to develop and exhibit their talents, could help.

When was the Macao Professional Development Association created and what does it represent?
The association was founded in 2012 because we saw there was a lot to be done and that we could do to develop talent here. At that time, there was no other group in the city focusing on this area, so the association was founded by a group of young people from different areas including the government, private companies, the education sector and other fields.
MPDA advocates a number of ideas, one of the primary of which is to make our areas of interest into careers and then to specialize within these.
We found out that it is not necessary for a specialist to have a rich education, so we approach those who are interested in certain areas and assist them in making their interests into a specialty.
There are a lot of talents in the city, but not many of them are being discovered.
For example, we held a programme called ‘The Creation of Talents’, and the participants were all local people. One of the people who was part of the programme was a scientist - Doctor Lo – who carries out research on nuclear power. The doctor is a local citizen and grew up here, but many people were astonished to find out that there’s a nuclear scientist in the MSAR.
Another example is a young man who dropped out of school at a young age. While many people assumed he would end up working as a waiter or another lower-income job, he told us that he likes dancing Hip Hop and has won a lot of prizes, but he is also interested in photography. So we encouraged him to develop his photography skills and now he’s a professional photographer, who – though still in his twenties - owns his own studio.
MPDA also publish studies relating to youth employment, like the one we recently published about whether the input of resources by companies has an impact on the development of young part-timers’ career paths.

What research are you currently conducting?
We are planning to work on a new topic regarding a professional certification system. There are so many people claiming they are good at certain things, but we can never know how good they are if there isn’t any certification system to confirm that.
Setting up standards would allow young people to gain confidence and also enable firms or the government to seek specialists with assurance.
With a professional system in place, people might not need to take exams hosted by the government and the government could simply look at the certifications of the job applicants.
In the gaming sector, Macau has called itself number one in gambling, but will anyone consider making Macau a place to train specialists in gaming, and are certificates from Macau valid anywhere else in the world?
There is a Qualifications Framework in Hong Kong, for individuals such as craftsmen claiming to work in the field for many years but who have never taken any examinations. With the Framework, a craftsman could be certified at a certain level according to his years of experience, and employers could use this as a basis for hiring.
We wonder if the government could roll out a similar system that suits the city, in order to allow young people to be promoted to higher positions.
The government could have some entities recognised, which provide short programmes. Those who finish the programmes could be qualified according to a certification system laid out by the government.
At a preliminary stage, the Macau Government could reference frameworks already in place, such as those in Hong Kong or in the Mainland, and establish the city’s own framework pegged to those of the neighbouring regions.

Your group has a show called ‘The Creation of Specialist’. What is it about?
It is similar to a talk or a sharing session. Like the scientist Doctor Lo that I mentioned, he shared his own experiences with other young people at the show. The doctor explained that he wasn’t good in secondary school, but later discovered a passion for [nuclear power] when he studied in the U.S. He shared that after that, he put a lot of effort into the area and was later hired by a big company in the U.S.
Doctor Lo shared that opportunities for growth in the U.S. are limited, because he is not a U.S. citizen. So when the doctor returned to the city, did it provide adequate opportunities for him to utilize his knowledge and skills? That is one of the areas that MPDA studies – the talent environment.
If there is a good environment for talents, then they choose to stay and are able to develop and grow. Otherwise, these talents are attracted to neighbouring areas that provide a better environment for their talent.

Given that Macau is a small city, how can a better environment be created that allows different talents to develop?
I don’t agree that Macau is a small place. Macau is part of mainland China. The Mainland has been advocating that Macau can be a platform for many things, so why can’t we make use of this and play our part?
For example, Doctor Lo’s knowledge could be used in the medical field, or in the development of electronic gadgets such as mobile phones. A research centre or company could be set up to support him and he could sell his ideas to the Mainland, and these products could be exported to other places via the ports in Macau.
Macau is a connection between the Mainland and other Portuguese-speaking countries, and we should make use of that.
Previously, MPDA visited institutions on the Mainland to obtain experience. In China they have been running ‘the Thousand Talents Plan’ or ‘the Recruitment Program of Global Experts’ for years. We visited Beijing Overseas Talent Center, and they rolled out a scheme which is worth referencing. They offer RMB1 million right away to selected talents as a reward, and the centre can also assist these talents to register for residency in Beijing as it is very difficult to get it. Moreover, the centre offers a license to them in order to allow them to set up companies that relate to their fields without queuing. The centre also provides educational and housing support to families of these talents. For those who are specialised in business, the centre also helps them to seek out correspondents to support their businesses.
However in Macau, never have I heard of any preferential offers to talents. If there is, it would be funny that we were never informed of this, and so promotions and advertisements are very important.
Meanwhile, the centre in Beijing is an institution supported by the government and they regularly hold talks and assist those who have come back to re-adapt to life in the Mainland.

With Macau focusing on a small number of industries such as gaming and tourism, how would talents in ‘uncommon’ fields succeed?
I would say one could create his/her own market.
Macau receives a lot of tourists every year, but apart from the souvenir shops, there are not many locally-branded products that are well-known outside of the city. This is because in Macau, there hasn’t been a good platform for developing local brands.
It is more important to understand what we want to focus on. People are always complaining there are no talents in the city, but what exact type of talents do you want for development? If the government laid out a plan or a direction then we would know what kind of talents are needed.
The government has been saying they need bilingual specialists - Chinese and Portuguese - but many of these specialists have no idea of how to make use of their skills. They finished their degree in translation and they only think of working with the government because there are not many companies out there that need Portuguese translators.
If there was a human resource company in Macau that only did referrals for these translators and could provide data and information on countries that have a high demand for translators, I believe this would be an improvement of the environment for talents.

The government has also expressed its desire to develop the cultural and creative industries. What is your opinion on their efforts in attracting related talents?
The government set up funding for the development of the area, but related talents are still not interested in coming back. The reason for this is the government itself doesn’t have in-depth knowledge of the industry.
For example, we have a member who is very interested in drawing Zentangle, a very abstract and uncommon type of drawing. Actually, it is a profession for which you can be certified. So this young lady took classes in the U.S. and obtained the qualification. MPDA suggested that she could make her interest into a career, so she used her skills to make her products and gained a level of popularity. We provided a network for this young lady in order to create this growth environment for her.
This environment should be created by the government. Why did it fall to us to create it? We know we shouldn’t always depend on the government, but it is necessary for the government to roll out policies to promote its talents.
The government could also set up a centre run by them to provide a platform for anyone, local or overseas, who are talents within the cultural and creative industries.
The centre could be an entire building where exhibitions are held and accommodation could be provided for overseas artists or designers. In Hong Kong, they revitalise industrial buildings for this sort of development.
I think to develop the cultural and creative industries, it is also necessary to attract non-local talents to come to Macau. We could attract them via specialist immigration policies, and provide benefits for them to allow them to create brands in Macau and promote their brands outside of the city.

Have you seen any differences in the development of talent in the past seven years of the MPDA's existence?
I don’t see a huge difference.
I think the government should appoint an institution like the centre in Beijing, with the government to pay a majority of support to this institution, because I don’t think any of the departments in the government can make any changes to the situation.
I can see that there was an improvement when the government started to lay out plans with the consideration of talent development in its five-year plan, but the progress is too slow. Things cannot be slow in Macau, everything needs to be fast.
For instance, how can we further improve specialists in the gaming industry, such as dealers? I think being a dealer could become a more specialised job by setting up recognised qualification programmes for them to improve, leading to more people respecting the job itself.

But what about claims that many dealers have found it difficult to be promoted to higher positions?
This is done by the government. In Macau, only Macau residents can work as dealers in casinos, and I think this policy is wrong. Why not instead protect the upper positions - like supervisors or managerial positions where they should be only taken by Macau residents? If this is instead the case, I believe Macau people would work hard, taking examinations to obtain qualifications in order to get those positions, so the dealer positions could be taken by non-resident workers.

The government has set up a Talent Development Committee. How do you think they could help in attracting talent to the city?
Many of their suggested policies need to be approved by the government. The administrative procedures are too slow and we cannot keep moving slowly.
The committee itself also carries out studies about what kinds of specialists are most in demand, but the problem is that many of their study results were from two years ago, and things have already changed. I mentioned this previously when I attended a TV programme, asking them why they would not carry out research on a quarterly basis, and create a database for the public to access. Students who are planning to continue further studies could make decisions by looking at the data, and learn what the current needs of the society are.

In general, how can the city boost its level of competitiveness?
There are many types of funding for students offered by the government. I mentioned previously that students should be granted loans and then scholarships after they have demonstrated themselves capable of achieving certain levels of academic performance. As a result, I believe more students would be willing to work hard and also be encouraged to become more professional in their fields.
We should always consider improving ourselves in order to be able to compete with others, instead of being protected from competition.