Not enough engineers to go around

Infrastructure projects face delays if the shortage is not met soon, says institution

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 4:29am

With a parade of infrastructure projects to come, some of the city's engineering companies are already reporting a 20 per cent shortage of staff, says the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers.

Institution president Choy Kin-kuen said he had learnt this from recent visits to 50 engineering companies.

"This is very serious. In fact, the demand for talented people to join the engineering business has been growing for several years," he said, adding that the demand arose mostly from the government's plan to build more infrastructure and housing.

There was also a shortage of technicians. Choy said the lack of skilled people had not led to a serious delay in projects yet because the engineers were working harder.

To avoid delays in future, it was important that the government did not launch too many projects at one time, he said.

"I have talked to government officials, saying that it should not put forward too many projects in one go. It needs to be done gradually and sustainably. The government's response was positive."

In his policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced several plans to tackle the housing shortage, including building 75,000 public rental flats in the next five years.

This is in addition to several huge projects including new MTR lines, the cross-border express railway and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Choy said some companies often hired engineers from overseas, but in the long run, more young people should be encouraged to join the profession.

He noted that his institution has more than 30,000 members, up 39 per cent from 2008. Of these, 13,000 are engineers and many are students.

About 2,800 engineering students graduate in Hong Kong each year, Choy said, and if all of these graduates joined the profession in the city, it would solve the shortage problem.

A fresh engineering graduate makes about HK$13,000 a month, which can rise to HK$18,000 in three years after finishing further training courses.

Construction Industry Employees' General Union chairman Chow Luen-kiu said: "Instead of saying there is a shortage of workers, I would rather say there is a wrong division of workers in different fields."

There was a shortage of manpower in, for example bar-bending, because this job was more physically demanding and required training.

While the discrepancy had not yet delayed infrastructure projects, this could happen if the problem was not tackled soon, Chow said.