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Addressing the IT worker shortage: Why it is critical

Hong Kong’s demand for information technology (IT) talent has been rising steadily in recent years. Although the number of IT workers in the city has risen by 30 percent over the past decade and topped 82,000 last year, the number still fails to meet market demand.

According to a recent survey, many companies in Hong Kong are so plagued by the shortage of IT workers on the job market that they are willing to pay 10 to 20 percent higher than the average market rate either to hire new employees or retain the existing ones.

The pressing task for authorities now is to initiate new steps to nurture more local IT talent and keep them in the industry.

At a public forum held at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology last week on how to tackle the shortage of IT talent, several guest speakers tried to get to the root of the issue.

Some said the worker shortage can be attributed to multiple factors, including a shrinking birth rate, a secondary school curriculum that discourages students from taking computer classes, and the preference of many science students to opt for engineering rather than computer science.

Given the difficulty in hiring experienced IT workers, many companies have no choice but to resort to poaching people from other firms, importing overseas talent or even outsourcing their work to Mainland China, India and the Philippines.

Some speakers pointed out that the starting salary of IT graduates often beat the average by one to two thousand dollars.

However, a survey conducted by my own office has found a rather different picture. It seems that not every IT practitioner in Hong Kong can enjoy a promising career, and salaries could vary a lot among different companies.

Among the 1,258 people we interviewed between August and September, 10 percent said they were seriously considering switching careers, as they complained about slow job promotion, absence of work-life balance and low pay.

The growing trend in the local IT industry to hire workers on contract basis or simply outsource their projects may also be bothering industry practitioners.

While the government is trying to push its funding request for the Innovation and Technology Bureau through LegCo, it must also take the issue of labor shortage in the IT sector more seriously, and adopt multiple measures to guarantee a long-term and sustainable development of the industry.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 2.

Translation by Alan Lee

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)