Bottom line looms in top civil service jobs

Government figures obtained by Sing Tao Daily, the sister newspaper of The Standard, has revealed that there has been a 20-percent drop in applications for administrative officer posts in the civil service's latest recruitment exercise from mid-September to early October. In absolute terms, that...

Mary Ma

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Government figures obtained by Sing Tao Daily, the sister newspaper of The Standard, has revealed that there has been a 20-percent drop in applications for administrative officer posts in the civil service's latest recruitment exercise from mid-September to early October.

In absolute terms, that amounted to around 3,000 fewer applications.

It is a substantial decline. Yet, it was still a little better than the last major drop, recorded immediately after the Occupy Central protests in 2014. That saw 4,000 fewer applications - a decrease of more than 20 percent year on year.

Government administrative officer posts are the most sought after jobs in this town, offering lucrative starting salaries for fresh graduates. Only the very best stand a chance of being hired. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor started out as an administrative officer after graduating with outstanding results at the University of Hong Kong.

Their counterparts in the private sector are management trainees groomed for senior management positions. Lam is now the chief executive, about four decades after she joined the civil service. If Hong Kong is a corporation, Lam would be its CEO.

With Hong Kong on the verge of a seventh month of anti-government protests, it is inevitable for sentiments in general to undergo a sea change.

Although the figures do not provide a breakdown, one suspects the decrease was mainly due to less applications from local university graduates.

If that assumption is correct, the administrative officer grade is still attractive to fresh graduates from prestigious schools in the mainland. The demanding Chinese language requirement has been an obstacle for some graduates from English-speaking nations.

The phenomenon confirms a dilemma for young graduates here as well as the government in its capacity as an employer.

The civil service is an important asset left behind by British colonial powers. The service, while supposedly politically neutral, is no longer perceived, by many, to be so, following a spate of disqualifications of election nominees in recent years.

Administrative officers identified for promotion are usually assigned to be district officers. During elections, they take on the job of being returning officers responsible for filtering out nominees thought to be pro-independent - a situation that is bound to be complicated by the US enactment of a Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that permits sanctions to be levied against individuals accused of violating human rights.

The drop in local interest in the posts can be seen to be anticipated given the intensity of the protests.

If the Occupy Central aftermath is any indicator in this regard, the number of applications would rebound a few years after the present crisis subsides. Now that there is a consensus that 2020 would be a difficult year for Hong Kong, will more local graduates apply to join the civil service in search of some much-needed job security? That's probable.

The ongoing unrest poses a dilemma not only for students but also for the government since local university students form the vanguard in the protest movement. So, will government departments, including the police, open their arms to graduates from HKU as well as Chinese, Polytechnic and other universities?

That is a economic and political dynamic worth keeping a sharp eye out for.