LCQ22: Assisting certain professional sectors and their practitioners

Following is a question by the Hon Tony Tse and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (November 11):
     It is learnt that due to the double blow of the riots and the epidemic, the businesses of quite a number of enterprises in the architectural, surveying, town planning and landscape (ASPL) sectors have been hard hit, and the unemployment or underemployment situation of the professionals and graduates of these sectors is also quite serious. With the efforts put in by me and members of the sectors, the Government has launched a subsidy scheme under the second-round relief measures of the Anti-epidemic Fund to subsidise private enterprises to employ fresh graduates and assistant professionals of the ASPL sectors to prevent them from becoming unemployed upon graduation or losing the opportunity to attain the relevant professional qualifications due to disruption of on-the-job training, so as to achieve the objective of safeguarding jobs and at the same time safeguarding professions. However, the some 1 400 subsidised places provided by the Government are unable to meet the needs of all eligible enterprises. Moreover, as the epidemic and the economic recession persist, some members of the sectors have anticipated that the employment situation of the graduates of the ASPL sectors next year will be worse than that of this year. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the latest implementation progress of the aforesaid subsidy scheme, and set out, by sector, (i) the respective numbers of positions and enterprises involved in the applications received, (ii) the number of subsidised places approved, and (iii) the number of employees to whom salary subsidies have been disbursed;

(2) whether it will consider flexibly deploying the subsidised places which have been granted to individual enterprises but have not been used, or providing additional subsidised places, with a view to enabling all eligible enterprises to get salary subsidies for all their eligible employees; if not, of the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it will consider launching a second round of the subsidy scheme or, by making reference to the practice adopted in the Engineering Graduate Training Scheme for the engineering sector, regularising the subsidy scheme, so as to assist the new graduates of the ASPL sectors in the coming year and beyond in securing employment; if not, of the reasons for that?

     With the severe hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, both the fresh graduates of various disciplines of the construction industry and the assistant professionals who have just completed professional training this year and are awaiting for taking professional assessment, are facing difficulties in finding jobs. To encourage and support private organisations to employ graduates and assistant professionals of the architectural, surveying, town planning and landscape sectors such that they can obtain the necessary working experience to attain professional qualifications, the Government provides the relevant employers with salary subsidy with the Anti-epidemic Fund. Having consulted the professional institutes and trade unions of the respective sectors, the total number of subsidy places was set as 1 000. The eligible employer can obtain a monthly salary subsidy of $5,610 for employing one eligible graduate and the maximum period is 18 months. For employing one eligible assistant professional, the employer can obtain a monthly salary subsidy of $10,000 for a maximum period of 12 months. In response to the different parts of the Hon Tony Tse's question, I hereby provide our reply as follows:

(1) Employer application of the subsidy scheme was closed in July 2020. A total of 203 employers met the application criteria, involving 1 708 eligible subsidy places including 569 places for graduates and 1 139 for assistant professionals. To satisfy the demand of the industry as far as possible, the Government duly increased the subsidy places from the original number of 1 000 to 1439. Details are tabulated as follows:

     The eligible employers are submitting information about the relevant graduates and assistant professionals according to the number of subsidy places allocated for assessment and approval. As at end October, the Development Bureau (DEVB) has received 529 sets of employee information among which 270 have been approved. The relevant employers have also started applying for the release of subsidy since October. The DEVB is now actively working with the respective professional institutes to assess and approve the applications received at the soonest. Besides, it is at the same time urging the eligible employers to submit information about other graduates and assistant professionals as soon as possible with a view to completing the relevant assessment and approval by end 2020.

(2) According to the current situation of assessment and approval, we anticipate that some of the employers are unable to fully utilise the allocated subsidy places, resulting in some remaining places. We have commenced consulting the respective professional institutes of the different sectors regarding how to deploy the remaining places in a flexible manner and reallocate them under a fair and open principle with a view to fully utilising all subsidy places.

(3) The relevant support measure is a one-off relief measure aiming to facilitate private organisations to employ eligible assistant professionals and graduates, providing them with professional training. There is no plan for introducing a second round of the measure at this stage; however, we shall continuously review the employment situation of the industry under the epidemic and consider factors such as the actual needs and financial capability of the Government to provide appropriate measures to continue the support of the construction industry.

Ends/Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Issued at HKT 15:00