Relight the job-hunt fire

By YP cadet Laxmi Limbu

Part of the problem is a don't-care attitude, but some say the career atmosphere needs fixing, too, writes YP cadet Laxmi Limbu

By YP cadet Laxmi Limbu |

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Getting a job as early as possible to help support the family was important a generation ago. These days, not so much.

As society becomes more affluent, young people feel it's less vital to get a job to support their families right after graduation, says Gary Tang Leung-shun, a social worker at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups.

"There are parents telling their children to quit their jobs, as they don't want the kids to work so hard for a few thousand dollars," Tang says. "The sense of responsibility and urgency today's youth has is lower that what was for their parents. [As a result], youths become pickier when looking for jobs. This makes them unemployed even in a good economy."

Hong Kong's youth unemployment rate from December to February was 7.2 per cent, more than double the overall jobless rate of 3.1 per cent in the first three months of this year, the Census and Statistics Department reports. (The department defines "youth" as those aged 15-24.)

Tang says the main reason youth unemployment is so high is a lack of interest and direction for their careers. They figure they have plenty of time and will get many offers, so they're fairly indifferent.

The jobs are out there. Employers, especially in sectors such as catering and construction, face labour shortages. Even so, the Census and Statistics Department says 22,500 youths were unemployed in the December-to-February period.

And even if young people are offered jobs, many don't want them - especially in the catering sector - because they don't like jobs with long working hours or those that require them to serve others. They also look for jobs that allow them weekends and public holidays off. Workers in the catering sector rarely get that kind of schedule.

"There is a change in the ideology of youths these days," Tang says. "Before, young people worked hard for career advancement opportunities, but now, because upward career mobility is so low, many find it is pointless to work so hard."

What's more, many young people change jobs often. "For example, once they have saved enough money to take the holiday they want, they quit, as they know they can get another job when they return," Tang says.

"They lack a long-term career plan. Their frequent changing of jobs makes career advancement difficult."

Lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labour Party says the lack of diversity in Hong Kong's economy, which is dominated by finance and real estate, is another cause of low upward career mobility among young people. He blames the government for a lack of job choices and a meagre effort to solve the problem.

"The government is taking a very passive attitude and leaving the youths to fend for themselves," he says. "Youngsters can get jobs in retail, catering or even clerical office jobs if they want, but what kind of pay and prospects can they get out of these jobs? Most of the job prospects lie in ... finance and real estate. Other industries do not have many opportunities and have low pay.

"Our society does not have a lot of choices for our young people."

Cheung says the government's attitude towards creating jobs in the public sector leaves young people with no choice except the private sector. He wants to see the government spend money to create jobs and offer more choices.

"Capitalism alone does not work," he says. "There needs to be strong government presence, but not as strong as communism. Increasing government expenditure will create needed jobs and improve the quality of public services."

Cheung also criticises focusing too much on university education when Hong Kong also needs students to take up technical and manual jobs.

"Hong Kong has the Vocational Training Council, which is good, but the government can do more," Cheung says, and cites Germany as an example. "The country has a two-track system - the traditional school system and vocational training system to provide their youth with more diversity and freedom in choosing their careers."