Hong Kong, as a business hub and a service industry centre, is still not taking enough advantage of the benefits of information technology, industry observers believe. Once IT usage becomes more widespread, Hong Kong will raise its global competitiveness - and also multiply its employment opportunities for those with the appropriate skills and training. Unfortunately, at present Hong Kong's supply of IT professionals is greater than its demand. Charles Mok, president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation and chief executive of Halo Systems (an IT systems integrator), believes that when small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) begin to look seriously at IT, the prospects for fresh graduates will improve. The federation is a non-profit trade organisation with more than 300 corporate members, including software and hardware manufacturers, systems integrators and other IT service providers. Fresh graduates, however, are having a challenging time entering the workforce. The opportunities for young graduates appear limited; up to a few months ago less than half of the graduating class in IT found places in the market. The situation could develop into a large problem if action was not taken, Mr Mok said. 'The major employers of IT professionals, such as banks, IT firms and the government are hiring fewer fresh graduates these days,' Mr Mok said. 'This is partly because there are more jobs available for experienced professionals. Also, private organisations are beginning to outsource some of their development work into China and other parts of the world.' In the future, employers are expected to hire more project managers than fresh graduates to handle outsourcing work. Mr Mok said that limiting the intake of IT-qualified fresh graduates could affect the number of people wishing to pursue a career in information technology, and this could have long-term consequences for the industry. University enrolment figures show a significant drop in the number of students signing up for IT courses, compared with the industry's boom days. 'We cannot depend on the large companies for employment opportunities. We have to reverse the situation at this stage before an unhealthy cycle sets in.' The federation has come up with a solution designed to address the situation - broadening the IT-users base. 'We have launched a number of initiatives to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to adopt technology into their business.' In general, the level of IT adoption by SMEs is relatively low, despite Hong Kong's high levels of IT activity overall. Hong Kong had evolved into a service-orientated city, but the service industry still had a long way to go to embrace the benefits IT could provide, Mr Mok said. 'The tourism industry has thousands of SMEs. They now need to enhance their IT applications and standards to reach out to their overseas business partners and clients, and improve their operations efficiency.' The same concerns apply to the logistics, trading and manufacturing industries, and to the restaurant business. The federation has launched various industry-wide initiatives to help the service industries see the benefits of technology. Some of the initiatives include selling computers at a very low price. By raising levels of IT usage, the business community will be opening up a wide range of employment opportunities for young people with IT skills and knowledge, and thus minimising the risk of a widening gap between IT demand and supply in the future. 'Either SMEs will hire more IT graduates or their IT service providers will recruit more young people to support the business,' Mr Mok said. 'The city's competitiveness will be affected if we do not become more IT-driven. As a business hub in Asia, we must have a sustainable supply of IT talents and maintain levels of IT excellence.'