25 February 2020
Hong Kong will need three times more caregivers by 2041 amid the ageing population. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong will need three times more caregivers by 2041 amid the ageing population. Photo: HKEJ

How technology can help create new jobs as population ages

In the IMD World Talent Report published in November 2018, Hong Kong only ranked 34th in the area of “labor force growth”. 

Coincidently, two days before the report was published, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr. Law Chi-kwong, mentioned in his blog that Hong Kong will need three times more caregivers by 2041, a demand that would be impossible to fill if the city only depended on local manpower. 

The challenge of an ageing population is getting more serious not only in Hong Kong but also in other developed countries. However, in Hong Kong, it seems that the local education sector, social welfare sector and even the government have no feasible plans to tackle the issue, especially on how to attract young people to join the field. 

Japan is a country with a large ageing population. It is expected that it will have 370,000 vacancies for caregivers by 2025. While the country has been struggling with low birth rate for decades, the government is encouraging the full utilization of innovative technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to closely link the virtual world with reality, and enhance the quality of living of the elderly – whether in their own homes or in residential care homes. (For example, the use of robots and AI can help in predicting when they need to go to the washroom.) 

This is the realization of a “super smart society”, also called “Society 5.0″ with “Connected Industries”, in which “industries will create new added value and solutions through connectedness of various facets of modern life, including humans (both consumers and suppliers), machines, systems, companies”, as proposed by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. 

The ultimate goal is to turn the problem of an ageing population into an opportunity for innovation and development of caretaking machines, thereby revitalizing the economy.  

In this field, many new types of work will emerge, from planning of sensors and IoT networks, monitoring of life science statistics, establishing social behavior patterns, to big data analysis, predictive disease models, etc. 

Such work is no longer limited to traditional caregiving. Combined with on-the-job training, it is expected to attract more young and energetic workers. 

This year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, under the theme “Future Readiness”, discusses how everyone can benefit from the technological revolution and move up in society. 

This “future-ready” concept is what we expect from the government. 

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong