Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday called on the professional sectors to do more to recognise overseas qualifications, to allow more workers to come to the city.
Speaking at a forum on population policy, she said the next government would have to address the looming population problem as early as 2018, and that it was important to attract professionals from overseas to address the chronic labour force shortage in some sectors.
These sectors could do more by allowing more mutual recognition of professional qualifications and adjusting standards so that more people could come to the city to work, Lam said.
She added that problems stemming from an ageing population would be compounded by a shrinking workforce.
"One in three residents will be aged over 65 by 2041," she said. "The labour force will increase from 3.52 million to 3.71 million in 2018, when it reaches its peak, and will decline thereafter."
The projected labour force in 2012 and 2041 are at similar levels at 3.52 million. But because of population growth, the labour force in 2041 will serve an extra 1.1 million people, a large part of which is made up of elderly people, putting a strain on public health and care services.
The birth rate will remain low, and population growth will be driven by immigrants from the mainland. "This will bring an integration problem, but it is not insurmountable," she said.
Lam said there was a need to diversify the economy instead of focusing on the financial sector. She said it was important to nurture and retain talent in industries such as engineering, technology and construction to support new industries.
Vocational training should also be given attention, she said, as blue-collar jobs were equally important and offered a good career path for students who failed to enter universities. The demand for workers in infrastructure construction and building maintenance would remain constant in the future, she said.
Lam also suggested extending the retirement age to get people to stay longer in the labour force. People are living longer, with life expectancy at 86 for men and 81 for women last year. People are also staying in schools longer and starting work later.
The Civil Service Bureau is concluding a feasibility study on extending the employment period and changing the retirement age. The findings of the study will be released early this year.