"It's not surprising to see students lose interest in IT, which is still a back-office [function]," he said. "Whenever there are major layoffs, IT is often the first team to be let go."
The domino effect
Chan said the problem is getting worse and creating a domino effect that is hurting the local IT industry in two ways. As computer science programs become less popular among students, the decreasing admission rate will mean fewer local IT graduates entering the IT job market in future.
"When we don't have enough talented IT workers, many enterprises hesitate to launch and trial projects with the latest technologies, or they simply outsource the deployment overseas," said Chan. "The local labor force then loses an opportunity to gain experience in these technologies, reducing the overall quality among local IT professionals and further hindering industry growth."
Time to transform
Gabriel Leung, director of community service at the Hong Kong Computer Society and general manager at EMC Hong Kong and Macau, also noted negative perception within the industry and attributed it to the changing role of IT within the economy.
"What the local IT industry is going through now is similar to what happened to the manufacturing industry back in the 80s," he said. "Programming and hardware maintenance roles are being replaced by technology advancement, automation and migration to cheaper locations."
Back in the 80s and 90s, with a stable political system and booming economy, Leung said Hong Kong was a major hub for datacenters, though the scale was much smaller and technologies were relatively primitive. But that's no longer the case due to the advancement in technology, growing competition in the region and sky rocketing local rental cost.
"People that were skillful and good at operating or managing those datacenters would definitely find it difficult to get jobs now," he said. The negative attitude among IT professionals toward their roles and tech industry are spreading across the community, affecting also the younger generation's perception towards the local IT industry. Leung said that to bring talent back to the industry, IT professionals should first recognized the transforming role of IT within Hong Kong's economy and identify new directions.
Rejuvenate the local industry
Identifying new directions for the local IT industry is critical for building sustainable growth, then younger talent will be inspired to join the industry, said Leung.
He said the latest OGCIO's datacenter strategy is a good start. Though the datacenter business is no longer the same as the 80s, Leung said Hong Kong still enjoys advantages against competition within the region. Developments in the datacenter industry are expected to increase job opportunities within IT, and also the profile of local IT industries. Google's US$100 million investment in a Hong Kong datacenter is one example, he said.