More young people joining construction sector, but tough to retain talent, lawmaker says

More Hongkongers join the sector, but many quit once they have finished training

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 7:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 9:30pm

More young people are joining Hong Kong’s construction sector, with the majority of recent trainees aged under 35, but many do not take up employment in the industry after they complete their training.

During a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, engineering sector legislator Lo Wai-kwok brought up concerns about the ageing labour force, with more than 40 per cent of construction workers aged 50 or older.

Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung said that between 2009 and 2016, the Construction Industry Council trained more than 24,000 semi-skilled construction workers. About 60 per cent of them were below 35-years-old, well below the average age of 46.

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“This shows that many young people are interested in joining the industry,” he said.

But real estate and construction lawmaker Abraham Razack said the figures do not show the “real situation” as the success rate of retaining trained young talent remained low.

“While [the council] has said [it] has trained more people, training more people and keeping people in the industry are two different things,” he said.

“When [young people] are training, they are there for a couple of months ... they have a lot of [employment] choices after they are done. The number being trained doesn’t mean they are actually working in the industry.”

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Trainees are paid while they are learning new skills, which acts as a buffer for some young trainees who are looking for a new job, Razack added.

He did not think offering more pay would solve the problem as “their pay was quite high at the moment”, due to the increasing construction costs and chronic construction labour shortage.

Ma revealed the number of registered construction workers had risen from 270,000 to 430,000 from 2009 to 2016 – an increase of 59 per cent. The number of skilled and semi-skilled workers also rose from 107,000 to 214,000.

Yet the industry still faces a shortage of between 10,000 and 15,000 workers for the next few years, he added.

Razack said better hours and eliminating the “perception problem” of working in the construction industry could help retain young talent.