LCQ13: Manpower supply and demand for construction industry

     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn, in the Legislative Council today (March 15):
     According to the Construction Manpower Forecast released by the Construction Industry Council in February this year, it is expected that the manpower of professionals, technicians and frontline workers will all be in shortage, with mismatches between the supply of and demand for them increasing from about five per cent to 15 per cent this year to about 15 per cent to 20 per cent in 2027. Some members of the construction industry are worried that with the further implementation of major planning projects such as the Northern Metropolis, the mismatch between manpower supply of and demand for the industry will become greater in the light of the development of such planning projects. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the authorities have commenced discussions with the industry and taken specific measures actively, so as to ensure that future public works projects can be launched in a steady and orderly manner, thereby avoiding the hindrance of the implementation of relevant projects and the industry from falling again into the vicious cycle of "dying of starvation at one time and dying of overwork at another time"; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether the authorities will, in view of the manpower demand for the industry, provide the industry with additional targeted support in training local talents and attracting young people to join the industry, including launching more funded training schemes in collaboration with enterprises or training institutions; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether the authorities will, by drawing reference from the practices of neighbouring regions, enhance the existing Supplementary Labour Scheme (including formulating and updating in a timely manner a list of types of trades in the construction industry for which labour may be imported due to manpower shortage and the scope of application, drawing up clearer vetting and approval criteria, and streamlining the vetting and approval procedures), so that the industry can flexibly meet the manpower demands for different trades at different stages of works projects; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The Government has been continuously implementing capital works to improve people's quality of life, promote economic development and enhance Hong Kong's long-term competitiveness. With appropriate planning, the relevant projects will be implemented in a timely and orderly manner. At the same time, the Government maintains communication with the industry to help improve the productivity and capacity of the industry through manpower planning and training, promotion of technology and other measures, with a view to promoting the concurrent development of the construction industry and the infrastructural development.
     With regard to the overall manpower planning, the results of the Manpower Forecast for Hong Kong Construction Industry recently released by the Construction Industry Council (CIC) as mentioned in the question have not taken into account the expected effect of the various measures to increase manpower supply and the application of advanced construction techniques and new technologies. The Development Bureau (DEVB) is making reference to relevant forecast data and assessing how to meet the manpower demand of the construction industry through a multi-pronged strategy.
     Our responses to the three parts of the question raised by Dr the Hon Lo are as follows:
(1) Through appropriate planning, the Government ensures the capital projects will be implemented in a timely and orderly manner. The annual capital works expenditure has been maintained at a level of about $80 billion in the past few years, and is expected to grow in 2023-24 and the coming four years of the medium ranged forecast, gradually to a level exceeding $100 billion. Together with other public and private sector projects, the total construction output is expected to increase to the level of $300 billion per year.
     In order to facilitate the industry to get prepared and allocate resources in advance to cope with future large-scale development, the Government and the CIC disseminate to the industry and the public regularly relevant information, which includes the construction expenditure forecast of different project types in the public and private sectors such as civil works, building works, electrical and mechanical works, and repair, maintenance, alteration and addition works, etc. We also maintain close contact with the industry and stakeholders, so as to closely monitor the supply of and demand for manpower of the construction industry. We will actively promote the adoption of advanced technology and innovative construction techniques to uplift the productivity and capacity of the construction sector.
(2) The DEVB and the CIC have been keeping in view the manpower requirements of the construction industry, and in response to the requirements adopting a multi-pronged approach to implement measures accordingly. Noting the increasing demand for skilled workers in the future, the Government provided a further $1 billion funding to the CIC last year for implementing specific measures, which included enhancing short-term craft training programmes to train more new blood to become semi-skilled workers; collaborating with the industry to increase the training places of the Approved Technical Talents Training Programme to turn trainees into skilled workers; and collaborating with trade unions to enhance the provision of skill enhancement courses for in-service construction personnel. The above specific measures will subsidise the CIC a total of about 27 000 training places in the next six years. All quota will be allocated according to the manpower needs of the construction trades.
     With the support of the DEVB, the CIC has also worked with trade unions and trade associations to enhance "first-hire-then-train" collaborative training for a total of 50 trades. Contractors and/or trade unions provide training while the CIC provides training allowance to students.
     Through the abovementioned $1 billion funding and internal resource allocation, the CIC has increased the training places of the Hong Kong Institute of Construction under its ambit, from 4 000 in the 2021-22 academic year (AY) to 5 500 places in the 2022-23 AY, and increased the training places of collaborative training from 2 000 to 4 500 places during the same period. As such, the CIC's total training quota in the 2022-23 AY will increase to 10 000 places. Besides, in response to the industry's aspiration to upskilling in-service construction personnel, the CIC launched the Construction Workers Professional Development Scheme in 2022 to provide subsidies to encourage registered general workers with the relevant trade skills to undertake trade tests for advancing to semi-skilled or skilled workers.
     In response to the industry's demand for professionals and technicians, the DEVB is also liaising with the Vocational Training Council (VTC) to support the VTC in increasing the quota for construction-related sub-degree programmes through internal resource allocation. The Budget announced last month also proposed to allocate about $107 million, through collaboration with the VTC, the CIC and other institutions, to implement a two-year pilot scheme to provide on-the-job training allowance to trainees who have respectively enrolled in part-time construction-related degree programmes and construction safety officer courses. The pilot scheme, which will commence in the 2023-24 AY, is expected to benefit a total of 1 300 trainees. The scheme will help expand the source of manpower supply for training up construction industry talents, helping to cope with the increase in manpower demand for future infrastructural development. The subsidy for part-time degree programmes can also enhance the education and career ladder for the trainees, and help them grasp the opportunities brought about by future development of the construction industry for upward mobility. The DEVB also assists the VTC in strengthening connections and exchanges with the industry on the content of the abovementioned programmes, enabling the programmes to cover more knowledge of the industry operations, thus better preparing the young trainees for entering into the industry.
     Besides, as announced in The Chief Executive's 2022 Policy Address, the Education Bureau will, starting from the 2023-24 AY, expand in phases the Study Subsidy Scheme for Designated Professions/Sectors to cover for the first time top-up degree programmes, which will include construction-related programmes. This will make tuition fees more affordable and encourage young people to enrol.
     We are working with the CIC and the industry to implement the Hong Kong Construction Industry Joint Promotion Campaign to promote the professional image and development opportunities of the construction industry as well as its contribution to the building of the community. At the same time, the campaign will provide young people with more internship opportunities, publicise to them the career ladders of different professional fields in the industry and provide assistance in their life planning, encouraging them to seize the opportunities to join the industry and develop their potentials.
(3) On the premise of safeguarding the employment priority for local workers, the Government allows increasing the number of imported workers on an appropriate and regulated basis, with a view to alleviating the shortage of manpower in individual sectors/job categories. Depending on the skill level and/or educational requirement of the job vacancies concerned, employers may apply to the Immigration Department or the Innovation and Technology Commission for admission of professionals, or to the Labour Department (LD) for importation of labour at technician level or below under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS), so as to supplement skills not readily available in the local labour market. The Government implemented SLS facilitation measures in April 2014 to expedite the preparation work of public works contractors for SLS applications for 26 specified shortage trades.
     The LD has uploaded relevant information about the SLS to its departmental homepage, and from time to time reviews the implementation of the SLS and takes into account the experience of other places to adopt feasible measures for enhancing the workflow of processing applications.
     The DEVB is making reference to the forecast data and assessing how to address manpower requirements through a multi-pronged strategy including leveraging local manpower resources, enhancing training and bringing in non-local resources as necessary to increase manpower supply, as well as to reduce manpower needs through productivity uplifting measures. The DEVB's target is to present the assessment by mid-2023.
Ends/Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Issued at HKT 15:55