Enriching the Experiences of Working Youth through Overseas Exposures


Youth I.D.E.A.S. 47

Employment and Economics Development

Enriching the Experiences of Working Youth through Overseas Exposures

31 September, 2019



Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city that bridges east and west. It is also an international trade and financial centre. According to the Census and Statistics Department, 9,040 businesses with overseas parent companies are located here and employ 493,000 people. These businesses cover major industries such as trade, wholesale, retail, finance, and professional and business services.[1] Staff with overseas experience are needed for the daily operation of these businesses as well as for their future overseas expansion.


How Hong Kong can maintain its competitiveness in the world of international business and expand both its major and emerging overseas markets is an issue worth exploring. Training up talent with international experience and significant understanding of overseas markets is an important condition for creating business opportunities for enterprises.


In fact, some Hong Kong working youth are interested in obtaining overseas working experience so as to deepen their understanding of overseas markets and cultures. Apart from internal transfers and self-sought employment, young people may obtain such experience through the Working Holiday Scheme and overseas internship schemes. Over the past five years, 44,371 working holiday visas have been offered to Hong Kong young people,[2] indicating that the Working Holiday Scheme is the main channel through which they seek such experience.


Though the Working Holiday Scheme is generally considered useful in broadening horizons and enriching experience, some employers may think that it is only helpful in accumulating working experience for low-skilled jobs. Some employers also think that participants only focus on the holiday aspect and not on the work aspect, so it may not be helpful in seeking employment afterwards. Besides, internship schemes organised by the government and NGOs mainly offer short-term internships for students, so working youths are unable to benefit. In addition, the nature of such schemes mainly focuses on enriching learning experience and broadening horizons. The accumulation of practical working experience and improvement of employability is limited.


In view of this, this study aims to look at the international experience which could improve the competitiveness and employability of young people from the perspectives of both enterprises and young people. Firstly, it tries to understand the attitudes of young people towards obtaining overseas working experience, as well as the demand for them to do so, through an on-site youth survey. Secondly, it tries to understand the effect of overseas employment experience in enhancing competitiveness through in-depth interviews with youth. Thirdly, it tries to understand the attitudes of enterprises towards talent obtaining overseas employment experience and the usefulness of such experience. By synthesising these analyses and information, it is hoped that concrete recommendations can be made for enriching the overseas employment experience of young people in order to enhance overall talent quality.


This study uses data collected by three methods during the period from August to September 2019: an on-site survey of 520 young people aged 18-34, case interviews with 20 working youth aged 18-34, and interviews with four experts and related parties.



  1. Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city that bridges east and west. Were the local talent pool to have international experience, it would benefit the development of different industries and help Hong Kong expand in both its major and emerging overseas markets in the competitive world. However, Hong Kong employees are more satisfied with staying to work in their hometown as compared to their Asian counterparts. This could become an obstacle for Hong Kong enterprises to step further into the international market and could be disadvantageous for developing Hong Kong’s economy and maintaining its international status.
  2. The Working Holiday Scheme is the main channel for Hong Kong working youth to seek overseas working experience. The internship schemes of the Hong Kong SAR Government and other non-profit organisations organised for students are mainly aimed at enriching learning experiences and broadening horizons. Other than the Working Holiday Scheme, there is not much opportunity for young Hong Kong workers to work overseas. The government also does not take supportive measures to help them make good use of the working holiday or to find other kinds of overseas employment opportunities.
  3. More than half of the working youth surveyed are interested in short-term employment overseas. Such experience is generally considered useful in improving foreign language ability, social skills, and problem solving ability, in addition to enhancing participants’ international perspectives. However, if young people travel on a working holiday visa in an irrelevant industry, the value of such experience will be questioned by potential employers and human resources managers. Therefore, some young people are worried about future job hunting and are unwilling to work overseas.
  4. By synthesising the opinions of the human resources expert and the young interviewees, it is more helpful for their future careers if young people work overseas in an industry related to the one they will work in after returning to Hong Kong. It would be more beneficial to Hong Kong’s overall economic development if Hong Kong young people could make use of overseas employment opportunities to gain experience in industries or professions in demand in Hong Kong.
  5. It is difficult for young people to hunt for a relevant job if they work overseas without a clear objective. This may not be helpful for job hunting after returning to Hong Kong. It would be more helpful if they were to seek career counselling, plan ahead, and actively contact the relevant potential employers before their departure. Such kind of supporting measures would be helpful in improving young people’s career development opportunities upon their return. It would also enhance the competitiveness of the younger generation in general.



  1. Set up a ‘Young Management Overseas Development Programme’ to expand Hong Kong’s major and emerging overseas markets.
  2. The government should set up a ‘Young Workers Overseas Exchange Programme’ to subsidise enterprises of specific industries and professions.
  3. The Labour Department should improve the image of working holidays.
  4. The Labour Department should provide career counselling services for young people who wish to go on working holidays and explain to them how to set career goals.
  5. The government could subsidise the travel expenses of low-income working youth for their short-term overseas employment.









[1] Census & Statistics Department. (2019). ‘Numbers of overseas and Mainland companies and start-ups in Hong Kong continue to grow.’ Press Release of 16 October, 2019.

[2] Source: Labour Department