SCMP Wednesday, November 15, 2000


Creating workers

A city poised to re-invent itself as the information technology hub of Southeast Asia cannot afford to wait until tomorrow's cyber generation pours out of the universities and colleges.
Having made the commitment, the SAR finds itself with an acute shortage of qualified technocrats - something it might have foreseen in the planning stage, but for the haste with which the plan was first adopted. Now that the Government has completed an assessment of supply and demand in manpower up to 2005, a glaring shortfall in the IT sector is confirmed. The market is projected to grow by just under 50 per cent in the next five years, from 50,000 to 98,200 personnel.
Hong Kong will be hard-pressed to find home-grown talent to fill the vacancies, despite an expected increase in the number of pupils with higher educational qualifications. But that is not the real problem, as cities more advanced in this field than Hong Kong have already discovered. Producing qualified staff is an attainable goal; providing the inducements and working environment to keep them is the real challenge.
When the Admission of Talent scheme was launched last year, some employers thought it was a way to import cheap labour from the mainland. Five months later, only 19 applicants had been processed. In Shenzhen, where mushrooming e-commerce companies are staffed by PhD employees from mainland universities, there seems little enthusiasm to cross the border, in spite of higher salaries. Perhaps those disposed to move, are more attracted by dreams of the good life in the US or Europe.
But prospects are improving in other sectors. The job market is predicted to grow to 3.33 million in 2005, when the labour supply will be 3.38 million. That means almost full employment, if job seekers' qualifications fit the jobs on offer. That is a big if; and it suggests little comfort for the less-educated and middle-aged. Self-improvement is the only option available. Employers may be made to give staff two or three days' annual training leave. Perhaps this is not enough to significantly increase knowledge or skills, but at least the section of society often considered too old to learn is not written off. Viewing the acquisition of new skills as a lifelong process will, ultimately, be the only way to meet the challenges ahead.