Paper for the
Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Manpower

Manpower Needs for the Construction Industry


The purpose of this paper is to inform Members of the measures being taken by the Administration to help meet the manpower needs of the construction industry.


2.Following the Chief Executive's pledge to build 85,000 housing units a year over the next decade, and in view of the continued expansion of other major infrastructure projects, concern has been expressed as to whether there would be an adequate supply of construction workers, suitably trained at different skill levels, to meet the expected demand in the foreseeable future.

Manpower Study

3.As a first step, the Education and Manpower Bureau has established an interdepartmental working group to study and assess the demand for construction workers, by number and trade types, over the next five years. The results of this study are expected within this year. Meanwhile, according to figures from the Census and Statistics Department, the wages in some trades in the industry have gone up significantly in the first half of this year. Specifically, wages of formwork carpenters, electricians and fitters rose by 34.2%, 21.8% and 14.6% respectively. Wages of some other more important construction trades, including plant operators, plasterers, steelbenders, bamboo scafforders, bricklayers and painters rose by 12.5%, 12.2%, 12.1%, 11.6%, 11.3% and 10.9% respectively. This is indicative of a tightening labour market.

Working Group on Training and Retraining for the Construction Industry

4.In late August this year, the Education and Manpower Bureau set up a Working Group on Training and Retraining for the Construction Industry. The working group comprises representatives of the relevant Government Bureaux and departments, training bodies, contractors and developers associations as well as trade unions. Its membership is at Annex. The aims and objectives of the Working Group are :

  • to identify how best to expand the current training capacity and improve training and retraining programmes to meet the needs of Hong Kong's construction industry over the next decade;

  • to facilitate the successful placement of trained and retrained workers in the construction industry;

  • to make recommendations to the Government, the trades and the training bodies to take appropriate measures to ensure an adequate supply of manpower resources to cope with the needs of the construction industry; and

  • to monitor the adequacy of the labour supply for the construction industry.

5.The Working Group has already held two meetings. After taking stock of their existing training and retraining provision, the major training bodies have undertaken to expand with immediate effect their current training programmes. In particular :

  1. The Vocational Training Council (VTC) will provide an additional 720 places at the technician level for construction trainees in the 1997-98 academic year. This represents a 15% increase over the 1996-97 level. Depending on the response to the intake this year, the number of training places will be further increased by 320 in the 1998-99 academic year. The VTC plans to continue to increase its annual training capacity in the years ahead.

  2. The Construction Industry Training Authority (CITA) will boost its capacity for retraining adult workers to join the industry by an additional 484 places annually. This amounts to an increase of about 20% over the current level of provision. The programme will focus on those trades facing obvious labour shortages, including steelbending, timber-form carpentry, brick-laying, plastering, and wall and floor tiling. Meanwhile, the Government is exploring the possibility of making available two temporary sites - one in Tin Shui Wai and the other in Tseung Kwan O - to CITA to enable it to run additional training operations. With these two extra open training grounds, CITA is expected to increase its training capacity by about 1800-2000 short-course-adult-trainees per year in the most needed construction trades.

  3. The Employees Retraining Board (ERB), in collaboration with the VTC, CITA, Hong Kong Electrical & Mechanical Contractors Association and other relevant trade unions, will increase its retraining capacity for the construction and building service sectors over the next few years.

New Arrivals

6.According to the 1996 Population By-census, about eight percent of the economically active of the new arrivals from the Mainland are engaged in the construction industry. Assuming that this population profile remains unchanged, an estimated 1,500 new arrivals from the Mainland are expected to join the industry each year. They will constitute an important source of local labour supply. The expanded training and retraining programmes in question would cater for their needs as well as those of local people.

Employment, Training, Retraining and Placement

7.The Working Group is also considering the possibility of establishing a one-stop employment, training, retraining and placement centre to meet with the manpower needs of the construction industry, particularly at the skilled and semi-skilled levels, for housing and housing-related infrastructure projects. The present thinking is that the proposed centre could match employees with vacancies (similar to the Airport Core Projects Job Centre which ran from January 1996 to August 1997) but might also serve as a focal point for the provision of construction-related training and retraining courses run by the CITA, ERB and VTC. The centre could also assist in the placement of trainees and retrainees.

8.The initial view of the Working Group is that establishing the centre can provide potential construction workers with a wide range of services as well as the information service for training and retraining. This comprehensive range of services can act as a focal point to attract more local people to join the industry on the one hand, and on the other hand provide existing workers with good access to job and training or retraining opportunities. It would also facilitate contractors in recruiting workers. The subject will be discussed further at the next meeting of the Working Group.

Other issues for discussion

9.Other issues that are likely to be examined by the Working Group in future meetings include :

  1. possible solution to the problem of high wastage rate of trainees in the industry. Some 30-40 percent of the graduates of the VTC and CITA do not go into the construction industry;

  2. the possibility of multi-skills training; and

  3. the possibility of funding training and retraining in the electrical and mechanical aspects of the construction industry through the imposition of a levy on electrical and mechanical construction contracts.

  4. the need to import labour, and if established, how to go about this to ensure that the employment opportunities of local workers would not be adversely affected.

Advice sought

10.Members are invited to note the contents of the paper.

Education and Manpower Bureau
September 1997