Government subsidies proposed to end shortage of skilled labour

Proposal for subsidies to help industries hit by a shortage of skilled labour bring in trainees set to be outlined in chief executive's policy address

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 9:07am

Industries hit by a shortage of skilled labour could be offered government subsidies to attract trainees by raising wages.

The idea has arisen with more school-leavers shunning manual jobs to attend university.

A source close to the government believed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying would address the issue in his policy address on January 15.

Sectors set to benefit include electrical work, lift maintenance and car and aircraft repairs.

These are identified as industries struggling to attract young people because of the relatively low starting wages and harsh working environment.

The extent of the subsidies needed was unclear, but the source said the extra costs would be shared by both the administration and employers. "Companies should shoulder some of the responsibility for grooming fresh blood," the source said. "It will alleviate their staffing problems in the long run."

A trainee electrician makes about HK$8,000 a month, less than half the wages of a fully trained and registered colleague.

Typically, it takes about six years to complete the training and apprenticeship.

But demand in the industry is rising because of the many new jobs being created by the expansion of the MTR and construction of the high-speed-rail link to Guangdong.

Wong Kam-fai, chairman of the Electrical Engineering Professional Employees Association, welcomed the idea of subsidies.

He said the industry, which employs about 70,000 people, would have to rely on imported labour if no effort was made to train young locals.

Wong attributed the labour shortage to the increasingly common practice of big companies outsourcing work to contractors.

"Small companies with limited resources don't bother to train newcomers. Their contracts are project-based so they don't have long-term vision," he said.

"On the other hand, parents don't like their children giving up academic study for vocational training. Youngsters don't like working in buildings without air-conditioning or works involving heavy labour."

In the UK, a planned upgrade to utilities infrastructure is set to see spending in the sector surge by £100 billion (HK$1.28 trillion) up to 2023, but companies in the industry say the county lacks the 200,000 skilled workers needed to do the jobs. The UK government has now injected more than £1 billion into a scheme to create 100,000 apprenticeship places.

The Hong Kong government has noted in its population policy the need to change the mentality of Hongkongers who place academic education before vocational training.

It will encourage employers to take a more active role in technical education.

The government hoped to revamp a four-decade-old apprenticeship scheme and tackle challenges brought by an ageing population and shrinking workforce, the source said. It is also determined to use all available local labour before considering importing workers.

The unemployment rate of 15- to 24-year-olds remained high at 9.7 per cent in 2012, compared to the overall average of 3.5 per cent. The figure does not take into account about 30,000 not engaged in employment, education or training, a population policy consultation document released in October showed.