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No Time to Labour Over Manpower Challenges

In the day-to-day meetings and conversations that I have with members, visitors and friends, one recurrent topic that keeps coming up is how much difficulty they have in hiring people with the right skills they need.
 
Just a few days ago, a visitor to the Chamber was lamenting that it was impossible for him to hire engineers in Hong Kong with the necessary skills he needed. During another meeting, a Hong Kong father was complaining that despite his daughter studying at one of the best medical schools in the world, she was not allowed to work as a doctor in Hong Kong even though she was born and grew up here.
 
At the Chamber’s CEO Manpower conference on 26 October, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said, at the end of the day, Hong Kong’s success hinges on our human resources. If we don’t give this urgent attention, then we will have no future at all. About 18% of the Government’s recurring spending is on education, yet this is still not enough to equip sufficient youngsters with the skills businesses need.
 
Part of the problem stems from a skills mis-match. So many youngsters are studying for careers in the professional services, such as lawyers and accountants – which are very good careers -- that some are finding it difficult to get a job and are embarking on a different career path. On the other hand, it is extremely hard to find people with vocational skills, such as engineers and mechanics. Another piece of the puzzle is protectionism. Unions want to protect their constituents, which is only natural. But by being inflexible, they are exacerbating shortages and putting pressure on their members as the demand for their skills escalates.
 
A more difficult piece of the puzzle to crack is Hong Kong’s birth rate. Our birth rate, which is the second lowest in the world, according to the Population Reference Bureau, above only Macao, is causing our skills pool to contract. In the latest Government projections, our workforce of 3.62 million in 2016 will plateau as early as 2019 and then start to taper off, shedding over half a million jobs in the next half century.
 
Training up youngsters with the skills they need will take decades, and even if people started having more babies, we would still not have enough young people entering the workforce to replenish those retiring.
 
Professor Richard Wong said Singapore had faced the same manpower challenges as Hong Kong in the late 1990s, but it launched an aggressive talent recruitment drive to encourage skilled workers to move to Singapore. They realized they had an aging population, so they began welcoming immigrants with skills.
 
The Chief Executive mentioned in her Policy Address the “formidable challenge of an inadequate workforce” on Hong Kong if not properly dealt with. She also touched on developing Hong Kong into a talent hub to support the Belt & Road initiative and Greater Bay Area development. While the Chamber agrees with all that is being said, we have been discussing these problems for years. We need to act quickly if we are to find the necessary skills Hong Kong needs to not only successfully transition into a knowledge economy, but to also tackle the additional challenges that a greying population will create.

Posted on 2017/11/06