Hong Kong experiences sharp workforce drop and labor shortage

Hong Kong began keeping records of its workforce back in 1985.

Hong Kong experiences sharp workforce drop and labor shortage
Participants attend an Asian investment conference held by Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, China March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The backstory: Hong Kong began keeping records of its workforce back in 1985. Since 2019, the city’s seen a contraction in its workforce numbers. Experts have warned that this decline will probably continue.

Tens of thousands of workers left the city over the past four years following social unrest and strict pandemic curbs. The problem also comes from Hong Kong’s aging demographic. Hong Kong doesn’t have an official retirement age, but many companies encourage retirement between the ages of 60 and 65.

More recently: When John Lee became the Chief Executive of Hong Kong last year, he began pushing to attract workers into the city. His administration started a talent program with a two-year visa plan for certain workers and college graduates. The program has gotten the most interest from mainland China.

The development: On Monday, Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department released info on the city’s working population, reporting a 2.4% fall in numbers for 2022. The workforce dropped by about 94,100 people, down to 3,776,300 people. That’s the sharpest decrease the city has seen since it began keeping these records. On Tuesday, Lee said it might be necessary to start importing workers into the city to fill specific jobs if recruitment tactics continue to fail. If this happens, he also promised to protect local workers, with many unions opposing this move.

Key comments:

“Many of the people who were born in the 1960s, when Hong Kong was experiencing the post-war baby boom, have reached retirement age. Meanwhile, the city is also seeing many emigrate to other regions and countries,” said Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai from the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of social sciences.

“If [labor] shortages cannot be eased even after training, simplifying work procedures, and implementing initiatives to recruit local workers, measures will be necessary to ensure there is a sufficient workforce to provide services to residents,” Hong Kong’s Chief Excutive John Lee told the press.