Engineer shortage not the problem

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 6:11am

Your article regarding a lack of engineers in Hong Kong ("Not enough engineers to go around", January 24) requires another viewpoint.

The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers acknowledges that engineering companies are reporting a 20 per cent shortage of staff. The institution's president, Choy Kin-kuen, was quoted as saying that "some companies often hired engineers from overseas, but in the long run, more young people should be encouraged to join the profession". True but in the short term, for the subcontractors who carry out the hands-on construction work, an influx of 2,800 freshly processed engineering graduates would be of little immediate use, as they do not possess the practical skills that subcontractors need. Subcontractors suffer a shortage of skilled workers, technicians and operators of specialist equipment, who need to be recruited from overseas, but there are problems.

Chow Luen-kiu, the Construction Industries Employees' General Union chairman, is quoted as stating, "Instead of saying there is a shortage of workers, I would rather say there is a wrong division of workers in different fields."

Mr Chow's attempt to obfuscate the issue probably stems from his duty to protect the interests of his local union members, some of whom can earn between HK$45,000 and HK$60,000 per month operating a crane due to their scarcity.

While this is wonderful for these individuals, the shortage of such skilled manpower drives up project costs and, contrary to what is alluded to in your report, it does actually lead to delays.

There is most certainly a shortage of hands-on construction specialists.

However, on trying to recruit such specialists from overseas, local companies will soon learn that the Hong Kong Immigration Department has not been informed about this manpower shortage.

Applicants will be routinely asked to provide evidence of a university degree when many of these people never made it to high school. Having entered construction work as labourers, hands-on industry experience has made them the skilled professionals they are today.

Unfortunately, as applicants for Hong Kong work visas they are treated by the Immigration Department in the same way as applicants from the financial or legal sectors. The department cannot be blamed for this; it has procedures to follow and boxes to tick. However, someone in government needs to inform it that the hands-on, physical construction of tunnels, bridges, railways and airport extensions is not carried out by MBA holders.

Mark Ranson, Sai Kung