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LCQ4: Manpower supply in construction industry

     Following is a question by the Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (January 9):


     Some members of the construction industry have pointed out that while the implementation of major infrastructure projects by the Government at present provides sustained impetus for the construction industry and the economy of Hong Kong, the construction industry is currently facing problems such as aging workforce, labour shortage, skills mismatch and succession gap.  As shown by the findings of a survey, construction sites with works in progress at present have an average labour shortage of 15%, posing challenges to the progress of works and safety of construction sites.  Regarding the shortage of construction workers, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has reviewed the effectiveness of the Enhanced Construction Manpower Training Scheme introduced in September 2010; if it has, of the details; whether it will consider extending the training period of the Scheme and expanding the trades under the Scheme to cover welders, plasterers, glaziers, marble workers, painters and decorators, as well as plumbers; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether the authorities will consider outsourcing some training courses to trade unions and certification bodies to increase the training quota and recruit new blood to join the construction industry; and

(c) as some members of the industry have estimated that the demand for construction workers will peak in the middle of this year, of the authorities¡¦ new proactive measures to expeditiously address the difficulties caused by the shortage of construction workers?



     We have maintained close liaison with the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the construction industry, as well as conducted manpower surveys and studies and organised workshops to keep track of the latest manpower situation.

     With major infrastructure projects coming on stream, there will be an increase in manpower demand in the construction industry.  Employment statistics show that there is still room for training more local workers to meet the demand.  As early as May 2010, we obtained the approval of the Legislative Council (LegCo) for a funding of $100 million to strengthen the support for CIC to implement various initiatives, including the Enhanced Construction Manpower Training Scheme (ECMTS), to enhance the skill levels of local workers.  The Development Bureau (DEVB) comprehensively reviewed the manpower situation of the construction industry in June 2011.  The findings revealed that in the next few years, although total manpower supply will be adequate, individual trades will face issues of labour shortage and acute ageing.  In this connection, in April 2012, we sought an additional funding of $220 million from LegCo to strengthen the relevant training initiatives.

     My reply to the Hon Lo's question is set out as below:

(a) ECMTS targets at training personnel for individual trades in great demand, in particular those facing issues of labour shortage, acute ageing and difficulties in recruiting new entrants.

     Statistics show that ECMTS needs to train up approximately 6 000 new entrants to meet the manpower demand in the next few years.  From the commencement of ECMTS in September 2010 to end November 2012, CIC has already completed four phases, training over 2 000 trainees.  Amongst them, about 60% were aged below 35, indicating that ECMTS was effective in attracting more young people to join the construction industry.  To ensure better employment opportunities for the trainees, since the end of December 2012, we have required relevant public works contractors to employ graduate trainees of ECMTS.  I am confident that CIC will meet its target by end 2014, while DEVB will continue to monitor the effectiveness of ECMTS.

     Prior to launching new phases of ECMTS, CIC consults the construction industry stakeholders and takes into account the findings of manpower studies, the situation of trainee intake and placement of graduates of various trades.  The number of trades under ECMTS has progressively increased from four in the first phase to ten at present.  Further, CIC adjusts the training periods of individual trades taking into account actual industry needs and the feedback from trade associations. As this mechanism has been functioning well, we encourage contractors to timely reflect the manpower demands of various trades to CIC.

(b) and (c) To meet long-term manpower demand, we, in collaboration with CIC, have drawn up a total manpower strategy for construction workers, which covers four key areas.

     First and foremost is forecasting manpower demand and supply. The percentage of labour shortage quoted by the Hon Lo is likely based on the questionnaire survey conducted by the Hong Kong Construction Association and the Hong Kong Federation of Electrical and Mechanical Contractors in November 2012.  Since 1976, the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) has released employment statistics on construction sites on a quarterly basis.  The statistics for the third quarter of 2012 show that the percentage of vacancies of manual workers at construction sites is only about 1%.  We will coordinate with trade associations, labour unions, CIC and C&SD to conduct similar manpower surveys in a collaborative manner.  On the other hand, CIC will consult the construction industry on a half-yearly basis to gauge the medium and short-term manpower supply and demand.  I hope the industry will actively reflect their views to CIC.  Further, CIC will be commissioning a consultant to assess the manpower supply and demand in the industry over a ten-year horizon.  The findings of this consultancy study will provide recognised information as reference for CIC and us to formulate relevant policies.

     The second key area is to increase manpower supply.  CIC has rolled out various initiatives to attract secondary school graduates, job-changers, ethnic minorities and new migrants to join the industry.   We have also collaborated with CIC to launch the "Build Up" publicity campaign to uplift the image of the industry.  Our survey revealed that the number of young people who are likely to join the construction industry has nearly doubled as compared with the time before the launching of the campaign.  In the past two years, the number of registered construction workers has also increased by some 15%.  These factors indicate the success of our publicity drive.  To complement our work, CIC has been striving to increase the number of training places.  With the assistance of DEVB, CIC has identified additional training grounds to increase the annual training places under ECMTS from about 1 200 to about 2 300 within this year.

     The Hon Lo asked if we would outsource training courses.  As a matter of fact, to keep the number of training places abreast of market demands, there are outsourcing arrangements for training courses.  Under the Contractor Cooperative Training Scheme (CCTS) led by CIC, certain training courses are subsidised by CIC, whereas contractors hire and then train the trainees.  Since December 2011, we have required relevant public works contractors to join CCTS and have also encouraged other public bodies to take part in it.  CCTS will provide some 1 500 training places this year.  Taking into account the above initiatives and regular courses of CIC, the overall training places of CIC will increase from about 2 000 in 2009 to about 6 000 this year.  This reflects that CIC has substantially raised its training quota to meet the needs of the industry.

     Regarding in-service workers, it is an established policy of CIC to encourage general workers to enhance their skills and register as skilled or semi-skilled workers.  Apart from organising skills enhancement courses for trades with relatively low passing rate of trade tests, CIC is planning to cooperate with qualified organisations with a view to contracting out five skills enhancement courses in early 2013.  CIC will also examine the feasibility of outsourcing other courses.  Further, CIC will provide subsidies for workers to attend trade tests or specified training courses.

     The third key area is to increase productivity of public works projects by enhancing the procurement strategy and formulating relevant guidelines.

     The fourth and the last is to make use of CIC's "JobsNet" recruitment platform launched in 2011 and the Construction Industry Resource Centre commissioned in 2012 to match manpower demand and supply.

     Looking ahead, we will collaborate with CIC, construction industry stakeholders and construction workers to nurture a multi-skilled workforce.

Ends/Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:54


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