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Examination of Technical and Soft Skills Needs in Recruitment Decisions by Business Leaders in the Greater Bay Area: Guideposts for Business Curriculum Revision and Development Efforts

Business leaders in the Greater Bay Area of Hong Kong, Guangdong, and Macau face competitive pressures for ensuring future recruitment to meet global competitiveness goals, just as any other region in the world. The study is an exploration of business leaders’ perspectives of the required skills identified by recruiters that tertiary institutions can consider in designing their curriculum. Findings collated from participant responses indicate a call for specific technical skills, unreliable soft skills’ needs perspectives, and differing skills for Big Data, AI, and critical thinking. Conclusions provide guideposts for skills requirements that higher learning institutions can use to revise their business curriculum. Future research can then include quantitative analyses for more specificity in curriculum development efforts.

Introduction

China’s interest in increasing global competitiveness has influenced such initiatives as the 2013 Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a comprehensive development program implemented by the Chinese government for the enhancement of infrastructure development (Kuo, & Kommenda, 2018; WorldBank.org/BRI, 2018). While such ambitions are generalized for Chinese-controlled territories, specific goals and developments have been outlined in the individual territories based on their regional competitive strengths. Key to such individual regional efforts, among other sectors of their economies, has been on the focus of improving the educational output of graduates for their career success, as well as their contribution to the local and national economy (Huifeng, 2019; Murray, 2019; Zhou, 2017). For the Greater Bay Area of Hong Kong, Macau, and the Guangdong province, this aim has vastly different considerations due to those three specific areas’ economic focuses. For Macau’s agendas, the significant investments by the casino and gaming industry look to future business graduates to manage their businesses as the hospitality industry in the region continues its massive expansion (MGTO/MTI, 2017; Zhou, 2017). The Hong Kong area serves as a vital financial center for the Chinese nation that connects to the global financial community, requiring fresh graduates with the knowledge and confidence to take finance firms into future competitiveness with the world (Murray, 2019). The industrial manufacturing interests of the Guangdong province of the Greater Bay Area require graduates capable and eager to grow the industrial strength of the historically manufacturing dominance of the Chinese economy (BayArea.gov.HK, 2015; Deloitte/GBA, 2019; Huifeng, 2019).

It is these three areas of such differing interests that this qualitative case study targets for the benefit of tertiary institutions in the Greater Bay Area region, offering business education programs in their efforts to update their curriculum revision and development efforts, offering guideposts on business program’s curriculum revision and development efforts that meet the expectations of employers, with the ultimate result of being a positive impact on the regional and national society. As stated, all three regions in the Greater Bay Area have significantly different interests in business operations, yet the tertiary institutions in the Area are functioning on the traditional efforts of business curriculum revision and development without identifying the qualifications desired by employers in each specific region. The thesis of this study, therefore, is that the needs of business leader employers in the three different regions are different in acquiring newly graduated business job seekers’ skills and abilities; i.e. skillsets. 

The deficiency gap of available studies in the Area is the prompt for this particular study that seeks to identify which skillsets the business leaders perceive as important in their hiring decisions, and specifically, target the skill sets applicable to the particular region in the area based on their business interests. Such outcomes can then be utilized by tertiary institutions in their business curriculum revision and development efforts to ensure that such drives are efficiently offering business leaders a crop of graduates with the necessary skillsets for employability in the Greater Bay Area and keep that talent in the region instead of going abroad. Such an outcome is a profound examination for the future of the Chinese economy due to the relative importance the Area has to global financial transactions via the Hong Kong financial market, the tourism sector of Macau, the industrial manufacturing of Guangdong, and most especially due to the export/import logistics services provided throughout the entire region that thrives from the individual economic output of all three locations in the Area (Huifeng, 2019; Murray, 2019; Zhou, 2017). The counter-thesis then is that there are no differences in the skillsets between all three regions and that the current efforts in consideration of technical and soft skills by tertiary institutions for business curriculum revision and development initiatives are efficient and do not require any changes. The outcomes of such an examination significantly impact the graduates’ employability in the Area and make the study’s participant responses serve as guideposts for any tertiary institution seeking to improve the efficiency of their revision and development efforts to be more aligned with the desired skillsets perceived by business leaders in their recruitment decision-making.

A case study approach has disadvantages in the analysis of collected data since reporting of outcomes is subject to author(s) bias (Gog, 2015; Ladwig, Domsch, & Beer, 2018; Tetnowski, 2015), but this limitation is hemmed from the bi-lingual approach to the analysis from the dual authorship of the study from both a western perspective and a perspective of a Chinese national. Further limitations stem from a lack of participant cooperativeness due to intense schedules of the target population, i.e. business leaders, in daily operations and their extensive scheduling, but which is mitigated by the authors’ direct contact with sufficient participant sample participants throughout the region. Additionally, the perceived notions of ineffectiveness that scholarly research has had on improving practical business operations within the Asian/southeast-Asian-Pacific regions in the recent past is another consideration (Chen, Phang, & Zhang, 2017; Hamilton, Cruz, & Jack, 2017; Hwang et al., 2015; Wallace, & Sheldon, 2015), in essence finding the willingness of n at a desirable 60% response rate or better, but for which this circumstance was overridden due to sufficient responses in the end.

2. Review

Paramount to the growth of trade and commerce development in China is the need for cultivating the next generation of business leaders with sufficient and effective knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics to ensure manageable growth (Moak, & Miles, 2016; Yew, 2016). The issue for continued development of the next generation of business leaders settles on effective curriculum and learning environments aligned to business goals (Cegielski, & Jones‐Farmer, 2016; Clift, Liptak, & Rosen, 2016; Dopson et al., 2016; Trompenaars, 2019). The concerns are focused on newly hired graduates’ job performance as meeting the expectations and demands of current business leadership’s objectives, or not (Dopson et al., 2019; Lozano et al., 2017; Wiles, 2008). This is then compounded by the lack of awareness of current business leadership needs and the inertia of tertiary institutions updating their curriculum revision and development efforts to meet those demands of employers that ultimately impacts the employability of said institutions’ new business graduates (Dopson et al., 2019; Lozano et al., 2017).

Curriculum can be defined as the totality of student experiences that occur in the educational process (Kelly, 2009). From a business administration perspective, the definition of curriculum proposed in this study should not be generalized in that manner but should be focused specifically on business, such as Business Curriculum: The subject components for business operations at both domestic and international levels that combine proactive activities with subject theories that impart an overall preparation for operating a business enterprise for effective managerial decision-making to business learners. This is a definition proposed by this study that clearly defines business administration curriculum and is supported by a combination of contemporary definitions by other studies (Amoroso & Burke, 2018; Blau, Williams, Jarrell, & Nash, 2019; Gordon & Bursuc, 2018; MacIntosh et al, 2017). 

The need for specifying the exact skills needed by business leaders is necessary for ensuring career success from a connection with learned skillsets to business operational expectancies. Such studies on skills’ needs for employability purposes are numerous, and therefore provide ample resources identifying such skills (Borges et al., 2017; Chandler, & Teckchandani, 2015; Gonçalves, Rocha, & Cota, 2016; Johnson, Albizri, & Jain, 2020; Khan, & Law, 2015; Ritter, Small, Mortimer, & Doll, 2018; Thomas, & Depasquale, 2016):

Similarly, the studies on soft skills’ needs are also numerous and are easily identifiable (Anthony, & Garner, 2016; Borges et al., 2017; Johnson, Albizri, & Jain, 2020; Messum, Wilkes, Peters, & Jackson, 2016; Ritter, Small, Mortimer, & Doll, 2018; Wesley, Jackson, & Lee, 2017):

The case study approach is the appropriate measurement of the issue of business curriculum accuracy and efficiency facing the Greater Bay Area since the approach seeks to ascertain foundational factors of influence and decision-making where empirical data barely exists (Chaudhri, 2016; Slack, Corlett, & Morris, 2015). From a social perspective, business studies benefit from a case study approach due to the revelations that the ‘case’ can reveal, and their subsequent development efforts (Beers, Van Mierlo, & Hoes, 2016; Johnson, Albizri, & Jain, 2020; Liu, Y., Liu, et al., 2015; Mills, Harrison, Franklin, & Birks, 2017), since the quality of the information garnered from the deficiency gaps in an empirical manner provide employers a broader collection of perspectives to their decision-making process (Fosfuri, Giarratana, & Roca, 2016; Slack, Corlett, & Morris, 2015).

3. Research Questions

Four qualitative constructivism-based research questions are focused on the perspectives of area business leaders as the assessment to determine the desired skillsets for their recruitment decision-making.

RQ1: What technical skills have a significant impact on business profitability and growth in the Greater Bay Area that motivate recruitment decisions of business administration graduates?

RQ2: What soft skills have a significant impact on business profitability and growth in the Greater Bay Area that motivate recruitment decisions of business administration graduates?

RQ3: What other skills or knowledge have a significant impact on business profitability and growth in the Greater Bay Area that motivate recruitment decisions of business administration graduates?

RQ4: Will new skills and knowledge impact recruitment and selection decisions of business administration graduates in obtaining profitability and growth for trade and commerce in the Greater Bay Area? Why or why not?

4. Research Methodology

The study used a case study approach with a survey instrument to determine if the comparative focuses between the three principal cities of the Greater Bay Area hold the similar or dissimilar aspects of desired skillsets in new hires that affect the revision and development efforts for regional business educational programs. A qualitative exploratory case study methodology was selected since the research aims to acquire new insight into the business leader’s perspectives on desired skillsets (Johnson, Albizri, & Jain, 2020). The comparison of the perspectives comes from the differences in industry sectors each area has, namely the financial sector for Hong Kong, the service sector for Macau, and the industrial sector for Guangdong, which subsequently indicate the skillsets’ desirability are either mutually exclusive to the specific area observed for the thesis prompting this study, or homogenous across the entire region to coincide with the counter-thesis. A cross-cultural collaboration of American and Chinese researcher authorship provided usefulness of outcomes through a bi-lingual perspective to gain transparency, reliability, comparativeness, and flexibility (Caretta, 2015; Stahl, Miska, Lee, & De Luque, 2017).

5. Data Sources

The target population was business leaders in the Greater Bay Area; managers, owners, and supervisors, as well as local business educators whose insight based on experiences with local leaders and business education in the region, lead to knowledgeable curriculum revision and development efforts, and therefore offer key insight into the study’s aims. Participants were selected based on authors’ professional relationships, members of local businesspersons networking groups, and recommendations from local commerce organizations that identify business organizations active in business research. All surveys were presented in one-on-one interviews and/or online submissions directly to their email, whichever preference they expressed due to the limitations from time constraints that the sample participants expressed to their business operations and scheduling, and their subsequent availability for participation. Data collection was between October to December in 2019. Both English and Chinese languages were used according to the individual participant’s familiarization and preference to ensure factual responses were accurate. All participants were presented with a statement of their rights regarding voluntary participation or refusal, the non-compensation nature of the study for their responses, and the strictest confidentiality of their identities. Demographic information concerning job, job title, location, and years of experience was collected in addition to their names as means of verification of their relevancy to the nature of the study. Out of the estimated 71.16 million population and the $1,641.97 GDP of the combined Greater Bay Area (HKTDC.com., 2020), only 251 questionnaires were distributed to the target population that was reliably identifiable with legitimate contact information or willingness to participate (i.e. answering phone calls or email invitations), with 147 responses being received and representing the sample participants (see Table 1). Other demographic variables, such as gender, ethnicity, income, etc., were not qualified as a meaningful indicator in this study since none of them have relevant significance to the employment decision-making of targeted business graduates (theoretically).

Table 1. Business Leader demographics

Role A

Number of Participants

Relevant Years of Experience B

Manager

102

16

Owner

5

23

Local business educator

40

15

A.  The participants’ role in their organization(s) and level of duties is connected entirely to the respondent’s self-identification form presented with the questionnaire, and all assumptions are that the number of responses is accurate as to their background and subsequent response.

B.  The Relevant Years of Experience are a simple statistical means measurement of the average number of years each participant response identified as a method of validating the credibility and relevancy of the participant. It does not weigh on the analysis outcomes and should be interpreted as justification for including the response.

6. Findings & Discussion

6.1 Results for RQ1

RQ1: “What technical skills have a significant impact on business profitability and growth in the Greater Bay Area that motivate recruitment decisions of business administration graduates?” Among the responses received, 73% from all three areas in the region focused on technical skills as a strong need for their future business curriculum graduate hires, 22% indicated a need for greater technical skills but without any specific skill reported, 3% did not have a specific idea in the responses for RQ1, and 2% failed to address the question entirely (see Table 2). 

Table 2. Technical Skills’ Needs

Examining the larger 73% from all three areas in the region can be assessed by specific participant responses, as seen in this selection:

P1: Participant no.1 stated, “When enterprises want to cooperate with enterprises in other parts of the Greater Bay Area, especially those in Hong Kong and Macao, they need talents who know the laws, administrative management systems, business management methods and financial management methods of Hong Kong and Macao.”

P2: Participant no.2 stated, “The applicant's administrative and business management ability will be considered in the recruitment process.”

P3: Participant no.3 stated, “Higher requirements for business management, budget management, and financial management. In the business activities, these aspects of management ability directly affect the company’s business expansion and revenue generation, business risk, and internal control management.”

P4: Participant no.4 stated, “In the Greater Bay Area, I hire graduates with business management experience because these skills help them adjust faster and better to the work environment.”

P5: Participant no.5 stated, “Technical skills are important, so I guess I need people who know managing projects and people, the budgets, the language of business, and familiar with reading reports and financial papers. I don’t have time to teach the basic things.”

Of the sample responses received, 22% indicated a need for greater technical skills but without any specific skill identified, as seen here:

P6: Participant no.6 stated, “Technology is developing, and there should be higher technical skills requirements for business graduates.”

P7: Participant no.7 stated, “Business administration graduates with relevant work experience will be preferred.”

P8: Participant no.8 stated, “Technical skills are essential to the development of a company. In the context of the Greater Bay Area, graduates need to equip themselves with more knowledge in the new development of the industry.”

P9: Participant no.9 stated, “1) There are many graduates. We should choose those with excellent technical skills from a large number of job seekers to better serve our organization. 2) Higher requirements for technical skills will be put forward to meet expectations of the organization.”

P10: Participant no.10 stated, “They need to have a general understanding of all technical skills.”

Of the sample responses received, 3% did not have a specific idea in the responses for RQ1:

P11: Participant no.11 stated, “IT technical skills are important for all functions.” This response was the only participant to identify the need for information technology skills development, as well as the only response stating a specific skill not included in the suggested list of technical skills.

P12: Participant no.12 stated, “I don't value technical skills, which can be improved on the job through training.” The only response that did not consider technical skills to be of value at all to their business activities.

P13: Participant no.13 stated, “Laws and regulations, financial statements, etc., can be handed over to more professional people. Energy and time should be used on the non-replicable soft skills.” The identification of suggested technical skills is evident but less valuable than the prioritization of soft skills.

And lastly, of the sample responses received, 2% failed to address the question at all and do not contribute to the overall analysis of this study as a case study focus.

6.2 Results for RQ2

RQ2: “What soft skills have a significant impact on business profitability and growth in the Greater Bay Area that motivate recruitment decisions of business administration graduates?” The need for soft skills development was nearly equal between the three major areas of the Greater Bay Area (see Table 3). 

Table 3. Soft Skills Needs Of the sample responses received, 68% from all three areas specifically named soft skills they consider important in their hiring decisions for new business administration graduates:

P14: Participant no.14 stated, “Teamwork is very important. Some graduates don't know how to cooperate with others, which makes things difficult.”

P15: Participant no.15 stated, “For example, when enterprises want to cooperate with enterprises in other parts of the Greater Bay Area, especially those in Hong Kong and Macao, they need talents who understand the corporate culture and ways of communication and cooperation in Hong Kong and Macao.”

P16: Participant no.16 stated, “The comprehensive quality of candidates will be examined during recruitment, including communication and coordination ability, including team awareness and self-learning ability.”

P17: Participant no.17 stated, “Higher requirements for teamwork, work autonomy, and rigor. While employees can actively and earnestly better their work based on their positions, they can better integrate into the team, learn from each other and encourage each other, cooperate with team members, and make collective contributions to form a positive team, which will be more conducive to the vigorous development of the company.”

P18: Participant no.18 stated, “Higher requirements for soft skills will be put forward to meet expectations of the organization, such as communication skills and teamwork spirit.”

An additional 22% had a generalized view of soft skills development, but no specificity of which skills was expressed in their opinions:

P19: Participant no.19 stated, “Soft skills are the most important factor affecting organizational performance.”

P20: Participant no.20 stated, “Soft skills are the foundation of sustainable development of employees, and they are more important than technical skills.”

P21: Participant no.21 stated, “Soft skills are the foundation of sustainable development of employees, and they are more important than technical skills.”

Another 8% offered other areas of suggested soft skills, though with too much varying frequency of specific skillsets to be categorized independently or in small clusters:

P22: Participant no.22 stated, “Emotional intelligence competencies such as self-management, relationship management are important for new graduates. To some extent, EQ is more important than IQ.”

P23: Participant no.23 stated, “Strategic thinking and cross-cultural ability need to be cultivated over a long period, which cannot be achieved immediately through short-term training.”

P24: Participant no.24 stated, “International awareness and self-direction are very much needed for understanding foreign customers and not waiting to be told what to do.”

Lastly, 2% generalized a need for soft skills through identification of soft skills important to their operations, but without specific identification of any particular skills:

P25: Participant no.25 stated, “I have higher expectations for business administration graduates than graduates from other majors.”

P26: Participant no.26 stated, “We only hire individuals strong in those areas.”

P27: Participant no.27 stated, “We handle mostly clients from abroad. Our employees must have strong skills in dealing with foreigners and confidence.”

6.3 Results for RQ3

RQ3: “What other skills or knowledge have a significant impact on business profitability and growth in the Greater Bay Area that motivate recruitment decisions of business administration graduates?” It is with RQ3 that the variations between the three major areas of the Greater Bay Area region showed extensive differentiation in perspectives. The identified supplemental skillsets beyond the suggested models from the literature had a commonality in a general theme, but the variations occurred as to the amount of importance placed on the skillsets that appear based primarily on the specific areas of the region where said skillsets applied to the businesses’ specific industry sector (see Table 4).

Table 4. Additional skills’ needs

Need’s assessment

Hong Kong

Macau

Guangdong

Need for improved language and/or communication abilities

9%

11%

2%

Need for various skills, but repeatedly referred to the need for skills focused around innovation and initiative

13%

15%

1%

Need for practical decision-making skills involving analysis and judgment process, better referred to as critical-thinking skills

18%

20%

3%

Declined to respond

1%

1%

6%

Total

100%

100%

100%

Out of a combined 22% response for improved language and communication abilities, both Hong Kong and Macau had the strongest preference at 9% and 11% respectively:

P28: Participant no.28 stated, “I will pay more attention to soft skills, such as communication ability and teamwork spirit. Technical skills don't vary much, students are taught much the same, and many schools use the same textbooks.”

P29: Participant no.29 stated, “Communication skills-oral, listening, written and presentation. In the Greater Bay Area, proficiency in Cantonese is essential to achieve success in communication.”

P30: Participant no.30 stated, “English ability. A second foreign language and Computer skills are desirable. Professional certificates such as ACCA, CFA, International Trade Documentary Certificate, International Freight Forwarder Certificate, Exporter's Qualification Certificate, Customs Qualification Certificate, Inspector Qualification Certificate, certificate of Certified E-Business Specialist and certificate of international business Specialist, etc. Knowledge of foreign trade is also needed. Graduates with this knowledge and skills will be preferred to meet the needs of the company's products and market development.”

P31: Participant no.31 stated, “Communication, autonomy, innovation, and flexibility are relatively important. Communication skills are required for any post. When completing specific work, the self-subjective initiative should be brought into play.”

P32: Participant no.32 stated, “Language abilities are important in the Greater Bay Area. You need to know and have a good command of Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and even Portuguese, to have better communication with clients from the region.”

Whereas the Guangdong province business leaders had only a 2% preference suggesting very little care for workers with cross-cultural skillsets. Of the combined 29% focused around innovation and initiative, again we see strong preferences by Hong Kong and Macau 13% and 15% respectively, but again, Guangdong has little use for such skillsets at only 1%:

P33: Participant no.33 stated, “Innovation ability.”

P34: Participant no.34 stated, “Innovation capabilities and research and development capabilities will be valued. Technological innovation further enhances the production efficiency of enterprises and reduces the cost of enterprises; the research and application of new technologies can keep pace with the times and enhance the competitiveness of enterprises in the market.”

P35: Participant no.35 stated, “It’s very important to find graduates with strong initiative.”

For the majority 41% of responses focused on practical decision-making skillsets involving analysis and judgment process, better referred to as critical-thinking, Hong Kong had 18% preference and Macau had 20% preference, but once again the Guangdong province business leaders came in at only 3% preference for such skills and abilities. Where Guangdong had the highest results were with the 8% outcome of responses that declined to respond at all, with Guangdong holding 6% of responses and both Hong Kong and Macau having only a 1% response each:

P36: Participant no.36 stated, “Graduates with relevant professional certificates are desirable.”

P37: Participant no.37 stated, “Lifelong learning ability.”

P38: Participant no.38 stated, “The ability to interpret our country's policy documents and the ability to think strategically. The reason is that understanding and interpreting the country's policy documents correctly is the basis of proposing strategic suggestions or opinions that are conducive to the development of the organization.”

P39: Participant no.39 simply stated, “Financial knowledge.”

6.4 Results for RQ4

RQ4: “Will new skills and knowledge impact recruitment and selection decisions of business administration graduates in obtaining profitability and growth for trade and commerce in the Greater Bay Area?” RQ4 was intended to gauge participants’ perspectives on potential skillsets they feel might become significant in the future (see Table 5).

Table 5. New Skills’ for Future

Of the responses received, the perspective for new knowledge in technical knowledge like Big Data and AI received the greater proportion of preference at 52% of the sample statistic:

P40: Participant no.40 stated, “If graduates have knowledge and skills in emerging technologies, such as big data analysis and artificial intelligence, it will benefit the development of the company.”

P41: Participant no.41 stated, “Graduates will have a better chance of being hired if they have relevant technical certificates.”

The need for greater technology familiarization in the form of hardware familiarity came in at 12% of responses:

P42: Participant no.42 stated, “Graduates should be able to present their understanding of the new advances in the job-related technologies and techniques, which can benefit the company in catching up with the new development in the business.”

The need for skillsets specifically in sales and marketing lead generation and closing had a preference of 34% of the sample:

P43: Participant no.43 stated, “Yes. If business administration graduates are familiar with the new concepts and technologies such as applying big data to analyze customers’ purchasing habits and behaviors, they have a better chance to be hired.”

There was also a reminder of the sample at 2% that declined to answer the question at all, or made wholly unique responses that could not be associated with any other codified indicators:

P44: Participant no.44 stated, “It depends on whether these new skills have any impact on the core competitiveness of the enterprise.”

P45: Participant no.45 stated, “A second foreign language is desirable, for example, if you want to cooperate with Macao, you may need to explore the market of Portuguese-speaking countries, and you need graduates who know Portuguese. Graduates with the certificate of Certified E-Business Specialist and the certificate of international business Specialist can better help the company engage in cross-border e-commerce business.”

P46: Participant no.46 stated, “Professional and technical positions require candidates' ability to learn new knowledge and skills, as well as their ability to innovate.”

P47: Participant no.47 stated, “The introduction of new skills and new knowledge of employees will inject new sources of strength into the company, which will bring new thinking to other employees and help create more new methods, new systems and new measures to adapt to the market.”

P48: Participant no.48 stated, “Like the economy, society, environment, etc. are changing and developing constantly, the knowledge graduates learn in school is only the foundation, which needs to be further tested in practice. Graduates need to have the habits and abilities of lifelong learning, to adapt to the development of the organization, region, and society.”

P49: Participant no.49 stated, “There is a world of difference between theory and reality.”

P50: Participant no.50 stated, “We focus on hiring talent that can continuously learn.”

P51: Participant no.51 stated, “Yes, the obtainment of new skills will help the company promote their business.”

The initial revelations from RQ1 prompting consideration of needed technical skills gave the strongest consideration towards technical skills impacting administration, business management, legal statutes relevant to business, and understanding financial statements balanced at approximately 73% of the responses. However, those were the largest pool of responses that cited the specific skills needed for business curriculum development and improvement. The second strongest percentage of responses centered around an obvious need for technical skills development yet did not specify which skills were being referred to by the respondent, and again comprised the largest segment of responses for RQ1 at 22% of the sample. The comparison between the 73% specificity and the 22% undefined skills’ needs is an indicator of how much the current business leadership recognizes the need for technically skilled workers from a generalized perspective, but a greater majority of said leaders are unclear as to which technical skills are needed. This concurs with similar results in studies by Ballard (2017), Cegielski and Jones‐Farmer (2016), Dong, Bartol, Zhang, and Li (2017), Englund and Bucero (2019), Maak, Pless, and Voegtlin (2016), and Rojewski and Hill (2017). The need for technical skills is obvious in today’s technologically oriented business world, but determining those specific skills needed to meet the challenges of the technologically sophisticated endeavors must start at the administrative level. With proper identification at senior levels of business leadership, adequate revisions to business curriculum positively impacting the future business student graduates can be undertaken. This level of senior leadership is the primary body for proper identification of needed technical skills when then comparing the strong 73% generalized needs and the lesser 22% specific needs against the remaining combined 3% of responses not falling under any other specific categories, further adding disambiguation of leader opinions on precisely what skills are in-question. The one respondent that did not offer a response to RQ1 does not have a meaningful bearing on the study since it is a single instance since it barely comes in at 2%. The implied consensus, therefore, shows a combined 95% of sampled business leaders having a generalized knowledge of technical skills’ development necessity.

When analyzing the responses for RQ2, the indications are clearer. A total of 68% of respondents identified the need for communication and relatable teamwork skills are being important for new hires in the future. This result is a heavy reliance on a need for project-based learning engagement in business students that forces the learners’ reliance on cognitive approaches to business situations moving away from rote-based learning environments. A lesser 22% identified the need for general soft skills’ development, and with generalized specific skills’ identification that was without a consensus of one set of particular skills such as evidenced by communication and teamwork with the larger 68%, yet nevertheless still adds to a specificity level that is a reliable perspective on the needs of which skills are needed for their business operations. The lesser 8% that gave a varied collection of soft skills ambiguity responses carries on the generalized view that expresses an obviousness for such needs, yet without any specificity, and then the remaining 2% continues with the notion of soft skills but gave no reliable selection of which skills are applicable.

RQ3 outcomes show a small 22% focused specifically on the needs of improved language and/or communication abilities, yet mostly from the Hong Kong and Macau areas, whereas Guangdong did not show much interest. A greater 29% expressed a need for skillsets focused around innovation and initiative, but again this was mostly from the Hong Kong and Macau areas without little interest coming out of Guangdong. The need for practical decision-making skillsets involving analysis and judgment process, better referred to as critical-thinking was the largest result for RQ3 at 41% of responses, but again this was from the Hong Kong and Macau areas and virtually nothing from Guangdong. Indeed, of the remaining 8% of responses for RQ3 that declined to answer the question at all, the majority of 80% of that decline to answer were from Guangdong, showing that the area has very little interest in the employability of individuals with higher-level cognitive education skillsets. The major take-away from RQ3 is that the Hong Kong and Macau area’s future employment considerations will be for business graduates that are proficient in core components of critical thinking, innovativeness, and communication skills development. This concurs with similar studies conducted in specific areas around the world that have parallel results (Chiu et al., 2016; Ngang, Hashim, & Yunus, 2015; Van Laar, Van Deursen, Van Dijk, & De Haan, 2017).

The evidence from RQ4 showed that of the 51% of the responses for new knowledge in technical knowledge like Big Data and AI, 31% of that 51% came from Hong Kong where the financial sector has a strong reliance on I.T. infrastructure, supporting the notion financial programs of any business curriculum need specific focus revision and development efforts on incorporating Big Data and AI into their financial management and operations courses. Macau showed a fairly strong preference at 19% of that 51% suggesting that Macau tertiary institutions would do well to incorporate such focuses into their curriculum as well, but Guangdong came in at only 1% of that 51% and again reiterates the lack of interest the area has in cognitive educated workers. Where the Guangdong province showed the strongest influence on business curriculum revision and development efforts was in the 12% of RQ4’s responses for higher technology (hardware) familiarization, with Guangdong business leaders holding the majority 10% of that 12% response. Both Hong Kong and Macau showed only a 1% interest, each, in higher technology (hardware) familiarization. The unanticipated response coming in at 34% for RQ4 was the need for skillsets specific to sales and marketing; especially for sales’ leads generation and closing sales. Guangdong still showed little interest at only 2% of that 34% response rate, but Hong Kong and Macau showed great interest at 19% and 13%, respectively, out of that 34%. Equally, a 2% for RQ4 declined to answer.

7. Conclusions and Recommendations

7.1 Conclusions

The purpose of the study was to ascertain the subjects, objectives, and focuses that business education institutions can develop and/or improve that meets the expectations and demands of the business leaders for the Greater Bay Area, by understanding what those business leaders need. Studies involving the same identification of business leaders’ perspectives impacting business curriculum revision and development concur with this initiative (Hall, & Rowland, 2016; Jones, Baldi, Phillips, & Waikar, 2017; Kane, Palmer, Phillips, & Kiron, 2015; Rubens, Schoenfeld, Schaffer, & Leah, 2018; Tymon, & Mackay, 2016).

The conclusion reached is the need for adaptation to regional demands by tertiary institutions in the Area that meet employer recruitment objectives. If the individual student elects to attend a college or university in a specific city/province in the Area, then it is assumed that their interest is related to the economic sector output that particular location specializes in. It, therefore, becomes the responsibility of the learning institution to adopt to this preference of both employer and student of the specific location, and then strive towards curriculum revision and development efforts that encompass the technical skills needed for the future, as well as the focused additional skillsets of Big Data and AI, and sales and marketing, but also of critical-thinking skillsets of the present and future business environments.

Anybody familiar with the pressures and expectancies of running a business will understand that the business leader cannot be asked to devote portions of their time to educate themselves on any topic, despite its relevancy and usefulness, since their primary duty is spending their time to keep the business rolling and profitable. Though, if given the time and proper motivation, such devotions would inherently be beneficial to their business operations, of course, but in regards to the development efforts of the business curriculum, the learning institutions must adopt the mantle of staying current with the latest technological developments and modifying curricula to meet those demands in place of the business leaders themselves. Synchronously, this follows suit that such efforts be inclusive of those demands for soft skills development that are more readily and easily identifiable by business leaders, yet remain divided and unsubstantiated by the evidence, thereby suggesting a more individualistic approach to inclusion by the individual tertiary institution’s business curriculum revision and development efforts.

7.2 Recommendations for Further Research

Paramount to future research is the need for constant interaction with business leaders on the changes to skills requirements for new candidates entering employment availability. The study’s results showing the clear demand for technical skills’ needs along with a divided soft skills’ needs provides ample ambiguity responses between both categories to warrant a continual analysis of the Greater Bay Area’s demands. Such circumstances suggest that both quantitative and qualitative studies be initiated for the region continuously, if not routine even, so that the ever-changing business environment in the region will be a maintainable stock of fresh graduates with the latest knowledge and confidence to increase their employability, which in turn will gradually and eventually result in the tertiary institution producing such graduates with improved branding that generates profitability and offers new insights into the institution’s profit growth. Efforts for developing and building relationships between higher education institutions the business leaders become apparent, as can be evidenced by a solid identification of the 251 willing sample participants for the rather large 71.16 million population and $1,641.97 GDP of the Greater Bay Area. With greater relationships between the learning institutions and the business leaders, a greater frequency of studies can be conducted and build a repertoire of data for future curriculum enhancement efforts. Judging by the significant number of responses in RQ3 identifying communication and teamwork, a largely repeated expression that the sample did not realize was already recorded on this study’s provided list of soft skills, future studies targeting more exact connotations are needed of precisely which communication techniques are needing improvement and which behaviors of demonstrating initiative that can be applied to learning curricula, something that several studies have been produced identifying similar needs’ assessments (Cegielski, & Jones‐Farmer, 2016; Gupta, Goul, & Dinter, 2015; Lucas, & Rawlins, 2015; Manevska et al., 2018; Messum, Wilkes, Peters, & Jackson, 2016; Ritter, Small, Mortimer, & Doll, 2018; Pullin, 2015).

Author: Dr. Jason Lee Carter

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