Hong Kong’s class of 2021 will graduate this summer amid a relatively bleak job market under the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic
, latest statistics show, with analysts and insiders predicting the trend will not improve until next year.
According to data obtained by the Post from a major employment platform, only about 12,500 jobs for graduates were listed between January and March this year, a slight increase of 2.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2020, but still nowhere near the pre-pandemic norm. In the same period in 2019, the number of job openings was around 20,300.
Meanwhile, nearly 30,000 young people graduated from Hong Kong’s eight publicly funded universities each year.
The figures from the Joint Institution Job Information System – a portal run by those universities – also show there have been fewer of the highly coveted management trainee positions available for graduates so far this year, down to just 1,000 from around 1,200 last year.
“We had initially expected the job market to show some improvements this year, but it seems that the situation so far had been more or less similar to last year,” said Edmond So Wai-chung, general manager of a locally based human resources consultancy.
“For the job market to bounce back, it might only happen by next year,” he added. “That can only occur when the local vaccine inoculation rate gets a boost, social-distancing rules are relaxed and borders reopen, and when the global economic situation improves.”
Government statistics show that unemployment among young people aged 15 to 24 hit 15.6 per cent between December 2020 and February this year. That figure was more than twice the overall unemployment rate of 7.2 per cent, which was itself the highest the city had seen since 2004.
Eight large corporations contacted by the Post said they were hiring similar numbers of graduates this year, or even more than in years past. But So said that in general, employers were “not as active” as they were in the past in hiring fresh graduates, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Accounting firm PwC said it planned to hire more than 3,000 graduates in mainland China and Hong Kong, up from about 2,600 last year, while Standard Chartered said it expected to recruit 50 per cent more graduates in Hong Kong than the 100 or so it hired in 2020.
Rail giant MTR Corporation and HK Electric both said they planned to recruit slightly more graduates this year than last, while HSBC, accounting firm Ernst and Young, power company CLP and the Hong Kong Jockey Club all said they expected to bring on similar numbers of new recruits.
But Danny Lau Tat-pong, of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said many SMEs were not hiring as many new recruits as before, especially in industries that suffered bigger blows amid the pandemic, such as retail and catering.
So, of the human resources consultancy, said: “Big firms and banks tend to still be hiring graduates this year, but many other businesses are not looking to recruit new employees without previous experience.”
“Some companies might even turn full-time permanent positions into part-time or contract roles, as they remain cautious given the uncertainties ahead,” he added.
So said infomation technology, health care and e-commerce were among the industries where fresh graduates were still in high demand.
In recent weeks, top Hong Kong officials have repeatedly urged young people to look to mainland China for job opportunities, especially under a government scheme for firms in the Greater Bay Area that offers more than 1,800 subsidised positions for local youth.
So also encouraged young people to consider the scheme – which guarantees a monthly salary of at least HK$18,000 for jobs in Guangdong province in fields such as marketing, business and IT – as it could provide a viable opportunity for them to join the workforce sooner.
Tammy Ng, who will graduate in July with a master’s degree in social sciences from a local university, said she hoped the situation this year would be better than 2020.
The 24-year-old, who has been preparing for the job hunt since late last year, said she was considering both opportunities at big local corporations and job postings under the government’s bay area employment scheme. She had already applied to several major firms under the scheme, including for management trainee roles, and received some responses setting up interviews and tests.
“I feel that there are still opportunities available, and I am still quite confident.”