Think of it as Hong Kong's life blood. According to Financial Secretary John Tsang, trade and logistics comprise the heftiest of the city's economic pillars, with about 24 per cent of GDP and 24 per cent of total employment - some 800,000 people.
To cope with rapid trade expansion in the Greater China region, recruitment firms have confirmed that employment in the logistics sector is strong and job prospects are positive.
As has been the case throughout the history of logistics, new technologies, client demands and fresh ideas keep the sector evolving - paperless processes, real-time cargo visibility and electronic payment systems.
James Gagne, CEO for Greater China with global logistics provider Agility, says factors impacting the logistics industry also include rising wages on the mainland, increased operating expenses, the urbanisation of consumers and uncertainty surrounding the renminbi. However, he says the biggest challenge is hiring, developing and retaining human capital.
"We don't manufacture products, so our people who provide our clients with logistics and transport solutions are our competitive differential," says Gagne. "If you don't get the talent development and people opportunities within the business right, in the long term, it can affect the services you offer to clients, which can directly impact the company," he adds.
As part of its global efforts to support staff development, Agility has introduced a region-wide leadership development programme. Designed to provide professional and personal growth, selected staff receive on-the-job learning and receive coaching and mentoring from Agility executives.
"The programme is offered for and by the people of Agility. Unlike an executive education programme, the learning process is led by experienced managers within Agility," says Gagne, whose shipping and logistics experience dates back to his days as a United States merchant marine.
Believing that competitive remuneration is only part of employee well-being, Gagne says it is important to provide staff with opportunities to see where they can progress within the company. As part of its talent development activities, through US-based Kaplan University, Agility also provides employees with accredited online programmes in leadership, finance and supply-chain management.
"We want our people to see where they are going within the organisation and where their future lies so they feel they are part of something bigger," says Gagne.
He adds that about a third of the first batch of employees in the management leadership programme has already been identified to play a bigger role within the company. "By joining the programme, our staff are able to grow personally and professionally, while gaining a better understanding of our clients' needs and how to deliver on their expectations," says Gagne.
To add to Agility's retention strategies, it has launched a joint company and employee corporate social responsibility initiative that supports local education opportunities in the 24 Asian countries where Agility operates. "While difficult to quantify on a balance statement, I believe there is a beneficial wider link between people, learning and educational development in the communities where our people live and work."
Agility is not alone in developing a pipeline of talent.
Ivor Chow, chief financial officer with Hutchison Port Holdings Management (Trustee-Manager of HPH Trust), also notes the need for more career progressive people to join the logistics industry.
"We are running one of the most technology-intensive commercial operations in the transport industry today," says Chow, also managing director of Hongkong International Terminals (HIT). "Through decades of investment and research in improving operational efficiency and productivity, we have pioneered innovations in all operational areas."
Chow adds that, in addition to academic qualifications, they also look at the interpersonal skills of new recruits. "Transport and logistics is very people-oriented and we have to work with many stakeholders including customers, shippers, government officials, customs authorities, contractors, and service providers," he says.
In addition to hiring fresh graduates, the firm also supports the next generation of Hong Kong's logistics workers through internship programmes. It also sponsors school projects through its Dock School programme which has been running for 19 years.
This programme involves looking after students at schools in the countries where the company has docks. Aid might include scholarships, school books, or even construction projects.