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How embracing ESG principles can attract top talent

Building a Sustainable ESG Workforce for Corporate Success in Hong Kong

Ricky Mui, Regional Commercial Director – Asia, Robert Walters

In recent years, Hong Kong has witnessed a significant shift in its corporate landscape, with the emergence of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles as a driving force for sustainable innovation, in response to growing global awareness of sustainability issues. In 2016 the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX) introduced ESG reporting requirements, making it mandatory for listed companies to disclose their ESG performance. This move has not only increased transparency but has also facilitated the integration of ESG considerations into investment decisions.


Elevate Your Corporate Strategy for Your Business

ESG provides a framework for businesses to assess and manage their impact on the environment, society, and governance. By considering these factors such as employee welfare, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement, this allows businesses to identify and mitigate risks associated with climate change, resource scarcity, labor practices, and other sustainability challenges, enhancing their long-term resilience.


Aligning business strategies with ESG principles enhances brand reputation, attracts global investors, provides access to international markets, and strengthens relationships with stakeholders. Embracing sustainability practices increases the likelihood to attract socially responsible investors and consumers who value ethical and environmentally conscious products and services. By aligning their operations with ESG goals, businesses in Hong Kong can differentiate themselves in the market and gain a competitive edge. ESG is no longer perceived as a burdensome obligation but emerges as an untapped competitive advantage. Companies can create a positive impact and contribute to the sustainable development of the organisation.


ESG Talent Retention is Not an Accessory but an Essential Priority

In the competitive talent arena, ESG plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining top talent. In today's workforce, employees seek purpose beyond a paycheck and are drawn to organisations with a strong ESG profile. Businesses that prioritise ESG practices create a workplace culture that nurtures loyalty and dedication. ESG serves as a compass, attracting individuals who are deeply committed to the success and sustainability of the organisation.


Keeping the best and the brightest in the fold is essential. Hiring individuals with a commitment to ESG is one crucial step; retaining them is another. At Robert Walters, experience tells us that people who are passionate and motivated about ESG are most likely to remain with an employer when leaders “walk the talk”, backing up their ESG policies and strategies with action and accountability.


Instead of “greenwashing”, an organisation should be open and transparent about its ESG targets and its progress towards these. The organisation should go beyond what it must do (i.e. basic compliance) and challenges itself to do what it should do (i.e. ethical decision-making) to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and create a sense of trust and loyalty among employees.


Empowering People for ESG Transformation

At Robert Walters, we strongly advise companies not only to attract but also to nurture talent, fostering a corporate culture that empowers individuals for effective ESG transformation. Acknowledging that every workforce inherently possesses the raw ingredients for ESG transformation is crucial. While not everyone may have decades of experience in managing ESG issues, many employees possess transferable skills that can be valuable in ESG initiatives. Various professions can be transformed into ESG specialists through upskilling to tackle ESG challenges, creating a workforce equipped to navigate the evolving landscape.


Training and development play a pivotal role in enhancing ESG capabilities within your company. Specific ESG knowledge acquisition is facilitated through diverse learning paths, including tailored courses, accreditations, and attending industry events. This well-rounded approach ensures that the workforce is equipped with the right skills to navigate the complex world of sustainable business practices.


Taking an example from Construction and Engineering, professionals in this field are adept at identifying current and potential problems and developing ethical and socially responsible solutions as part of any ESG strategy. Utilising their technical skillsets, they can extend these practices to address various ESG issues, including recycling, waste disposal, public health concerns, land contamination, green assets, and energy supply.


Additionally, external partnerships can also provide a great source of specialist skills and capabilities. Organisations have successfully drawn upon the expertise of industry peers, environmental consultancies, universities, government partners, charities, and NGOs. This collaborative trend fuels a growing demand for candidates with proven collaboration and communication skills.


Hiring ESG talent

Although there has been a surge in green talent in the market in recent years, it's still difficult to find skilled candidates who are well-versed in environmental policies, sustainability reporting processes, and data analysis. Talent scouting involves sourcing candidates with hands-on experience in a specific specialism or industry and other times identifying candidates with the aptitude and potential to quickly learn on the job. Employers often express that the challenge lies in determining whether these candidates can effectively implement ESG initiatives in practice. Engaging a recruitment consultant offers insights into ESG talent acquisition. Through confidential discussions with companies, recruitment consultants can clarify the skills necessary for successful ESG transformation. Their experience and network become invaluable assets in assisting companies in securing talent with the requisite skills for their ESG goals.


When it comes to attracting talented people who are motivated and skilled in ESG, the interview process is critical. If a senior leader is driving your ESG strategy, it really sets the tone when they engage personally with candidates during the interview process. Hearing directly from a leader about the organisation’s ESG vision, goals, and milestones provides a powerful statement of intent for candidates.


In the everchanging and competitive corporate landscapes of Hong Kong and Asia, the pursuit of ESG talent should transcend traditional recruitment norms. Beyond a stringent focus on experience, during sourcing and interviews, we strongly advise hiring managers to prioritise candidates who truly believe in and commit to sustainability. A successful hiring strategy means being flexible and seeking candidates with practical experience, excellent communication skills, and a willingness to adapt quickly to the job's demands.


To sum it up, the corporate scene in Hong Kong is in the midst of a transformation where ESG is more than just a checkbox – it's a crucial strategy for long-term success. As businesses fully embrace ESG principles, the benefits go beyond meeting regulations. Companies attract investments, foster a culture of responsibility, and create an environment that resonates with and keeps top talent. By integrating ESG values into their core operations, companies enhance their competitive position and emerge as leaders driving positive change across the broader business landscape.

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