SCMP Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Manpower supply crisis looms


Hong Kong is facing a crisis in the supply of well-educated workers at a time when jobs in the hi-tech and professional sectors are set to surge.
Urgent measures, including a possible relaxation on the importation of mainland professionals, might be needed to meet the shortfall, a senior official said yesterday.
The Government's "Manpower Projection to 2005" study shows the need for workers will grow from 2.9 million last year to 3.3 million in 2005 - an annual growth rate of 2.4 per cent, or an increase of 433,600 jobs.
Finance, insurance, property and business services will create the biggest demand, with the Government forecasting 176,000 new jobs created in the sectors over the next five years.
After matching projected staffing requirements, it is expected there will be a shortage of 116,900 jobs requiring education levels of secondary and above.
"Unless we are able to address this mismatch, we may not be able to take full advantage of the new job opportunities that may arise and this may affect Hong Kong's progressive transformation into a knowledge-based economy," Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun said.
"On the issue of importing professionals, our data has shown that there is a shortage of qualified manpower in areas such as information technology and financial services."
Cutbacks in manufacturing look set to continue, with the number of jobs in the sector expected to drop by 51,700 to 196,800 by 2005.
Growth in staffing requirements will be greatest for semi-professionals and professionals, with increases of 47 per cent and 40 per cent respectively from 1999 to 2005.
Information technology, tourism-related trades, banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions and the import/export sector are identified as groups expected to grow in strategic importance in the coming years, the survey found. The need for workers with degrees or post-secondary education is expected to grow faster than that for workers with upper secondary education and below.
In the next five years, increase in demand for the former group will total 338,700 compared with 83,000 for the latter, the study says.
A separate study by the department shows middle-aged people generally fare no worse than people in other age groups in the job market. But there are indications that unemployed low-skilled middle-aged workers will face difficulties in finding new jobs.
Legislator and vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions Leung Fu-wah said: "There shouldn't be a shortage in the supply of people with just a general university degree, although there's a need for specialists in certain areas."
Professor Ho Lok-sang, head of the department of economics at Lingnan University, said the studies' figures were on the rough side and should not be treated as 100 per cent accurate.
A steering committee, chaired by Mrs Law, will hold its first meeting on Monday and will discuss the reports' findings.