Hong Kong will see its shortage of workers skyrocket to nearly 118,000 in 2022, the latest government projection shows.
That's up from its forecast two years ago of a shortage of 14,000 workers by 2018.
And the latest figure is a conservative assumption. If, instead of growing by 4 per cent a year, the economy expands by 5 per cent a year, the shortage could be almost 178,000, the Labour and Welfare Bureau says in a paper to the Legislative Council's manpower panel.
Its figures also show a big mismatch between the job skills required and people's levels of education.
Based on projected growth in the population and labour needs, by 2022 there will be too few university graduates and people with a secondary education or less, and too many with a diploma, sub-degree or postgraduate degree.
The size of the projected manpower shortage has again raised the issue of whether the government should loosen its criteria for labour importation.
But unionists, including Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Tang Ka-piu, said that doing so would mean fewer jobs for local workers.
"The projection looks very suspicious. I wonder how the government came up with it," Tang said.
Lee Tak-ming, an employee representative on the Labour Advisory Board, which processes companies' applications to bring in foreign workers, said the government should find ways to encourage women or retirees to join the workforce.
The bureau predicts the city will need almost 3.8 million workers by 2022 but there will be only about 3.67 million available.
Its projection shows that manpower needs will grow fastest in financial services, with 2.2 per cent more people needed each year until 2022.
The professional and business-services sectors would need 1.5 per cent more workers annually, while the construction sector would need 1.4 per cent more workers per year.
On the other hand, the government forecasts that by 2022 there will be an excess of 16,300 people with a diploma, 13,000 people with a sub-degree and 53,400 people with a postgraduate degree.
At the same time, there will be a shortage of 50,800 people with a university degree, 94,100 with a senior secondary education, and 55,700 people with a junior secondary education or less.
"There have been voices for so long saying we need more subsidised first-degree places and fewer self-financed sub-degrees. The projection has shown that the current policy is leading to a manpower mismatch," said education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen.
The study also forecast that the population of those aged 65 or above will climb from 979,800 in 2012 to 1.5 million in 2022, and then 2.5 million in 2041.
The document said that the government's steering committee on population policy had suggested enhancing child-care services, and offering retraining courses targeting the needs of women.
Other suggestions include enhancing the existing labour-importation scheme without harming the interests of local workers.