27 October 2016
plumbers and electrical workers earn more than most university graduates. Photo:
plumbers and electrical workers earn more than most university graduates. Photo:

Looking for an ideal husband? Here’s the best advice

In an online forum post that has gone viral in Hong Kong, a female netizen expressed her grief over being called a “bitch” after she told her girl friend that she was making a wrong marriage decision.

The netizen found it ridiculous that her friend, who is not lacking in appeal, has decided to marry an unattractive bald guy who works as a “handyman”.

She reckoned that her fiancé is “rubbish” who might not even be able to earn HK$10,000 a month.

“Bitchy” was an inappropriate word to describe her ignorance; a more correct term should be “outmoded”.

It just takes me by surprise that she has no idea that plumbers and electricians are among the well-paying occupations in town, making them husband material.

Plumbers, electrical workers and gas installers all need to obtain equivalent qualifications to be licensed or registered by the Water Authority and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department.

Earning a monthly income of HK$50,000 is for them a piece of cake.

According to Census and Statistics Department, plumbers and electricians at construction sites earn, as of May this year, a daily wage of HK$1,175 and HK$973 respectively.

These average figures have already been dragged down by the inclusion of apprentices and assistant workers.

Still, their incomes are double the median wage, or 2.5 times the minimum wage of general laborers in Hong Kong.

It can be argued that plumbers and electricians at construction sites might not have jobs everyday.

However, one should remember that the city’s booming construction industry has long been suffering from a serious shortage of technical workers.

Davis Wong, vice-president of the Federation of Hong Kong Property Management Industry, revealed that small companies have great difficulty in securing licensed plumbers and electricians even after offering then more than HK$22,000 a month or several thousand dollars a day.

So it’s not too difficult to imagine how well-paid a self-employed individual licensed worker can be.

The median monthly income is HK$14,000, while those with a post-secondary education background can expect HK$23,000. Fresh university graduates have a humble start of HK$12,000.

In other words, plumbers and electrical workers earn more than most university graduates.

Bored with the numbers? How about recalling your ordeal after having a busted switch or a blocked pipe at home?

You call a plumber or an electrician, and you are told that the “hands-off” consultation fee is HK$500. Materials and workers’ fees are to be calculated separately.

In addition, they won’t be wasting their time sipping a cup of milk tea while you discuss the problem. You have to make an appointment two or three days in advance.

Given all this, the female netizen’s remarks make no sense at all.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg knew that these “lowly” workers are not to be sniffed at. He said in 2013: “Compare a plumber to going to Harvard College — being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal.”

His advice wasn’t far-fetched. The best top jobs in the United States that year were elevator installers and repairers, and electricians, with a mean annual salary of US$570,000 and US$510,000 respectively.

By comparison, the average US college graduate was earning US$340,000 and even a Harvard graduate was only getting US$490,000.

Technical blue-collar jobs are getting more precious than ever. For instance, Canada launched the Federal Skilled Trades Program in 2012, attracting 3,000 electricians and plumbers annually from all over the world to help solve its shortage of technical workers.

That’s to say that it is easier for a “low-profile” plumber than for a deep-pocketed investor to migrate to Canada.

In the era of artificial intelligence, many jobs will be done by computers or robots in the near future.

However, sophisticated on-site tasks carried out by plumbers or electricians are unlikely to be replaced by smart or automated programs — unless genuine A.I. robots become a reality. (By then, not only plumbers but the entire human race can be replaced.)

An old popular saying in Hong Kong goes: “If you want a better life, you should marry a bus driver.”

Nowadays, bus drivers are not as secure in their jobs as before: autopilot cars are already cruising on California highways.

Given such a bright and promising future, a steady income and an aura of masculinity, plumbers and electricians are definitely today’s ideal husbands.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 20.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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May they all live happily ever after. But how much are they earning? Photo: CNSA

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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