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Council question: Manpower situation of and professional recognition for ICT industry
2017-06-06

Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Dr David Chung, in the Legislative Council today (May 24):

Question:

Some practitioners of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry have relayed to me that the lack of recognition of their professional status and the absence of a clear prospect of advancement have resulted in persistent shortage and mismatch of manpower in the industry. On the other hand, the Task Force on Information and Communications Technology Professional Development and Recognition (the Task Force), set up under the Digital 21 Strategy Advisory Committee, published a report in September 2015 pointing out that there would be great difficulty in implementing a framework for professional recognition as the industry had not reached a general consensus on the implementation details. Regarding the manpower situation of the ICT industry and recognition of the professional status of its practitioners, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has assessed the manpower supply and demand of the ICT industry in the next five and 10 years and, on the basis of that, formulated policies to attract new blood to join the industry and nurture talents for it; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) whether it will recruit additional ICT staff in the civil service establishment and designate “ICT profession” to be a professional grade in the civil service; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) of the follow-up actions taken in respect of the Task Force’s proposal on ICT manpower development; whether it will make reference to international practices and systems for setting up a unified professional recognition system for local ICT practitioners, and consult the industry afresh on the matter?

Reply:

The Government is committed to fostering the development of the information technology (IT) industry, and attaches great importance to the training and employment outlook of IT talents in particular. We have been keeping contact with the industry, with a focus in training cross-industry and cross-sectoral IT talents. Through various measures, we identify at an early stage and nurture young people with potential and interest in IT, and provide opportunities for them to unleash their potential.

After consulting the Labour and Welfare Bureau, the Education Bureau and the Civil Service Bureau, the reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(1) The Government has been assessing the manpower supply and demand of the IT sector through the Report on the Manpower Survey of the Information Technology Sector, which is released biennially by the Committee on Information Technology Training and Development of the Vocational Training Council. Apart from exploring the existing manpower situation of the IT sector and projecting future manpower demand, the survey also looked into the training needs of IT practitioners and recommended appropriate measures, such as drawing the attention of practitioners, employers and universities to some new or fast-developing IT areas that merit special attention. The latest Report on the 2016 Manpower Survey of the Information Technology Sector has just been released in mid-May 2017, which major survey results included:

(i) the labour market in the IT sector maintained a steady growth, with total IT employment increased to 87 794 people (including freelancers) in April 2016, representing an increase of 5.8% as compared to 82 973 people in April 2014;

(ii) the job nature of about 80% of IT employees are related to application design and development (38.3%), operation services (22.4%) and technical services (17.9%);

(iii) about 34.1% of IT employees earned an average annual income of more than $360 000, higher than the 32.9% in 2014;

(iv) compared to the 2014 survey, on average, there was a drop of 7% annually in the number of local bachelor degree/associate degree/higher diploma graduates joining the IT market, due to the decrease in the average annual supply of associate degree and higher diploma IT graduates. The resulting increase in vacancies was met by IT graduates returning from overseas and non-IT graduates who have received in-depth conversion IT training;

(v) from 2012 to 2016, IT companies ranked “information and system security” as the most desired training programme, while “networking/data communications” came within the top three. In the 2016 survey, “data science and data analytics” was ranked the 6th, reflecting the fact that companies were more aware of the need to develop data analytics tools and other technologies to enhance their competitiveness in the market; and

(vi) The report recommended IT employees to learn and acquire the skills of new and fast-developing IT areas, such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and cyber security. The report also recommended education organisations/institutions to strengthen promotion and offer more STEM-related bachelor degree/associate degree/higher diploma courses, and to provide more internship opportunities to students.

Moreover, the Government conducts manpower projection exercises from time to time to assess the broad trends of Hong Kong’s future manpower supply and demand at the macro level for the medium term, as well as the potential manpower resource imbalances at different education levels. The manpower projection also includes compilation of the manpower requirements for individual economic sectors.

According to the Manpower Projection to 2022 published by the Government in April 2015, it is projected that the manpower requirements of IT practitioners will increase at an average annual rate of 2% in the period of 2012 to 2022, which is higher than the projected average annual growth rate of 0.9% for the overall manpower requirements of the economy during the same period. IT practitioners can be employed in various sectors, including the IT and information services sector (covering telecommunication activities, software publishing and IT-related services), as well as other sectors (such as import and export trade, wholesale and retail, and financial services).

We will study the above reports in detail, make reference to relevant statistics and information on the IT industry and IT practitioners, and continue to collaborate with the industry and academia in order to develop and implement relevant measures on IT manpower development.

As regards nurturing talents, the Government continues to encourage more secondary students to choose STEM subjects. The Government released the Report on Promotion of STEM Education – Unleashing Potential in Innovation in end-2016, and the recommendations are being implemented step by step. The Education Bureau is updating the curriculum of science, technology and mathematics education. It has also provided additional resources to schools, and has organised STEM symposia for teachers, expos for students, teacher training programmes and student learning activities.

On the other hand, the Innovation and Technology Bureau, through its departments and organisations, is committed to encouraging youngsters to have more exposure in innovation and technology (I&T) outside the normal curriculum, including implementing the Enriched IT Programme in Secondary Schools, and organising different types of I&T activities, e.g. Internet Economy Summit Youth Forum, IT Exploration Tours and InnoTech Month.

As for universities, to encourage more students to choose IT programmes and to join the IT industry upon graduation, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, in collaboration with large enterprises and universities, launched the “IT – You Study, We Hire!” campaign in March 2017 with an aim to enable youngsters who have interest in joining the IT industry to better understand the career prospects and potential development opportunities of the industry. In addition, the Internship Programme under the Innovation Technology Fund has, since its launch in 2004, funded over 2 400 interns, of which about 500 have participated in IT-related research projects. In 2016, we increased the monthly allowance of interns, and extended the programme to cover the incubatees and small and medium enterprises tenants in the Hong Kong Science Park and Cyberport, in order to encourage more university graduates to join the I&T (including the IT) industry.

(2) The Government has been committed to enhancing work efficiency and improving public services through the use of IT. To cope with the relevant tasks, the Government would support the increase in civil service establishment as appropriate to address manpower needs where fully justified. At the same time, we also seek to enhance efficiency through internal redeployment, re-prioritisation, streamlining and re-engineering. Heads of Departments would formulate their required staff establishment having regard to operational needs and availability of resources.

For the five financial years from 2013-14 to 2017-18, approval had been given to create a total of 388 posts in the civil service IT grades (i.e. the three grades of Analyst/Programmer, Computer Operator and Data Processor).

According to the Civil Service Bureau, under the existing Government appointment policy, departments should set the entry requirements of individual grades according to their job nature, duties and responsibilities. Whether an individual grade is classified as a professional grade depends on the entry requirements of the basic rank of that grade.

(3) The Task Force on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Professional Development and Recognition established under the Digital 21 Strategy Advisory Committee published a report in August 2015 on the establishment of a unified framework for ICT professional recognition. The report pointed out that as the society had not yet reached a general consensus on the implementation of a unified framework, it would be difficult to implement it. Therefore, the Government has no basis to further consult stakeholders on this issue.

Nonetheless, with reference to the recommendations in the report, the Government will continue to facilitate local ICT professional development through different measures, including:

(i) providing funding support to ICT professional development initiatives through various existing funding schemes;

(ii) encouraging and subsidising government IT staff to attend relevant professional qualification programmes;

(iii) through the Industry Training Advisory Committee of the ICT industry, collaborating with stakeholders to develop the Specification of Competency Standards (SCS) for the ICT industry under the Qualifications Framework. The SCSs for “Software Products and Software Services” and “Communications and Information Services” have been developed, and those for “Digital Media Technology” are being developed; and

(iv) encouraging qualifications awarding bodies to continue exploring cross recognition of professional qualification schemes with other jurisdictions.

Together with various stakeholders, we will continue to foster the development of the IT industry and create more jobs to attract and nurture ICT talents.

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