In uncertain times, it seems the best boss is still the mother of all employers: government and the public sector. In the case of Hong Kong, working with those who move money around is not bad either.
An annual survey by the University Grants Committee (UGC), which allocates public funds to eight Hong Kong universities, shows that graduates of full-time UGC-funded programmes are better off working in the civil service, business and management. And those who have taken non-research postgraduate degrees also appear to have done well over the past 14 years despite the global financial crisis.
Based on the UGC survey - which tracked annual salaries of subdegree students, undergraduates and postgraduates in taught and research areas from the 1997 to 2009 academic years - those who have taken medicine, dentistry and health sciences at the subdegree level enjoyed the biggest increase in annual salary, from HK$170,000 in 1997 to HK$278,000 last year.
In contrast, those who have taken education at the research postgraduate level saw annual pay plunge from HK$608,000 in 1997 to HK$273,000 last year.
Average salaries of university graduates last year went down compared with the previous year, as Hong Kong's economy was still reeling from the impact of the global financial crisis.
"The situation [last year] was similar to Sars in 2003," says Lancy Chui, managing director for Hong Kong, Macau and Vietnam operations at Manpower Services Hong Kong. "Fresh graduates faced stiff competition from people who had been laid off due to the economic downturn. Many employers preferred individuals with working experience." The big drop in annual pay of engineering, technology and sciences graduates could be due to the manufacturing contraction in the mainland.
"Our research data shows Hong Kong-based companies, that have established export-driven manufacturing enterprises in the Pearl River Delta, employed around 24,000 professionals specialising in technology, sciences and engineering in 1996," Chui says. "The number soared by 158.9 per cent to peak at 62,000 in 2006."
However, she adds, demand plunged after most major overseas markets went into recession in 2008 and slashed imports.
According to Chui, salaries of fresh graduates applying for jobs in the financial and professional services sector should improve this year. "With government's launch of large-scale infrastructure projects, the local labour market is in need of candidates to fill vacancies in civil engineering, structural engineering and building services engineering. Starting salaries in the construction and engineering sectors may reach HK$18,000 a month."
Chui clarifies that salary should not be the sole consideration for undergraduates hunting for jobs. "They should consider the long-term career prospects," she says. "As many employers prefer candidates with work experience, university students should make use of their time to sharpen their competitive edge."