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A shrinking young workforce and general lukewarm interest in government jobs have further compounded Hong Kong police’s recruitment problems. Photo: Felix Wong

Hiring remains big challenge for Hong Kong police, even after lifting rule on 7-year stay for new recruits

  • Rule change from April 1 allowed only 15 applicants who would have been ineligible to qualify to join the force
  • The force has not met recruitment targets for the last two financial years and currently has about 5,000 vacancies

Police have continued to struggle with attracting talent even after easing a requirement on the length of time applicants must have been in Hong Kong, a move that opened the door for only 15 extra candidates.

The hiring slump has been compounded by the shrinking number of young workers and a general lukewarm interest in government jobs, among other issues, according to the force, which is trying to fill about 5,000 vacancies.

“Until now, after changing this application requirement, there were 15 applicants who are now qualified,” said Superintendent Baron Chan Shun-ching, who is responsible for recruitment.

These applicants would have been ineligible before the requirement was changed on April 1. Before that, prospective candidates had to be a Hong Kong permanent resident and have lived in the city continuously for at least seven years.

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Chan said the force had no set number of candidates it wanted to reach after the rule was relaxed.

“Our purpose was to align ourselves with the requirements of other disciplined forces, so that our overall competitiveness can be raised,” he said, adding the force would continue to promote the relaxed rule once the coronavirus pandemic eased.

Under its latest recruitment targets unveiled on Friday, the force aims to hire 240 probationary inspectors and 1,350 police constables in the 2022-23 financial year.

Chan noted that although the drop in overall candidate numbers had stabilised recently, there remained “uncertain factors” affecting the size of the pool in the future.

Hong Kong police have not met recruitment targets for the last two financial years. Photo: Dickson Lee

The superintendent pointed to a “sharp and continuous drop” in the 15-29 age group in Hong Kong’s working population, as well as the post-pandemic recovery of different industries leading to increased competition in the labour market.

According to the 2021 population census, the labour force in the 15-24 age group dropped from 347,410 in 2011 to 226,026 in 2021. The figure excludes foreign domestic helpers in the city.

Chan also cited a lack of interest among young people in government jobs, in addition to a greater focus on work-life balance.

The force hired 170 probationary inspectors and 484 constables during the 2021-2022 financial year out of about 8,200 applicants. That translated to meeting only 87 per cent and 36 per cent of targets for the two ranks respectively.

In the financial year before that, the force hired 158 probationary inspectors and 596 constables, meeting 70 per cent and 37 per cent of its respective recruitment targets.

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Chan noted the number of constables hired this year was relatively low. He explained this was partially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw staff reassigned to the front line, affecting recruitment and selection.

He expressed hope that a coming hiring push would allow the force to reach more potential candidates, for example the Recruitment Experience and Assessment Day on June 19.

“We hope that through the participants’ personal interaction with officers, they will have a real experience to understand our selection process, training content and our diverse work,” Chan said.

Potential applicants can try the physical fitness test on the day and receive a three-month waiver if they pass, which can be used for their applications. For the first time, a similar arrangement has been made for the group interview for constables.

As of April 3 this year, the force had 33,119 officers and 4,735 civilian staff.