Technology and innovation can help solve manpower shortage

January 21, 2019 13:13
Hong Kong is facing a severe manpower shortage, which could be attributed to our ageing population. The average age of taxi drivers in the city, for example, is 58. Photo: Bloomberg

Technology and the economy are much intertwined nowadays. 

In December, I attended two conferences on economic trends and prospects for technology

One was the Hong Kong Economic Summit 2019 organized by Hong Kong Economic Journal and Metro Radio. The conference centered on hot topics: the new economy and the Greater Bay Area. 

The other conference was the ASTRI Technovation Summit 2018, which explored developments on the creation of a smart city via artificial intelligence (Al). 

The Economic Summit gathered the movers and shakers of the local financial industry.  

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s remarks "against some people fantasizing that the government was out to rescue the property market” attracted a lot of attention and became a media focus for many days. 

Charles Li Xiaojia, the chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, raised the idea of a "digital asset exchange", which also aroused a lot of interest in the media. 

The ASTRI summit attracted more than 400 experts, entrepreneurs, government officials and senior management from different industries. Several former ASTRI employees were also invited to share their success stories on how they transformed their ASTRI experience into businesses

I gave a speech on talent hub and Al at both summits. In the past, I often talked about Hong Kong’s strength in developing Al. 

The research output of our universities has long been recognized internationally. The challenge is how to commercialize the results of their scientific research. 

We need a hundred or even one thousand corporations like SenseTime, a locally bred “unicorn” that successfully turned university research output into popular products. 

As we all know, Hong Kong is facing a severe shortage of manpower in various industries. 

The ageing problem is also getting serious among professional drivers in recent years, and a number of major traffic accidents could be linked to this issue.

According to the Transport Department, the average age of a driver is 58 for taxis, 56 for public light buses and 54 for franchised buses, while more than 80 percent of the city's 4,300 container truck drivers are over 50 years old. 

The shortage of manpower is also deeply felt in such industries as property management and correctional services. 

Senior management of some organizations said the problem was as serious as “life and death”. 

According to the latest data from the Security Bureau, the percentage of people aged 55 or above among security guards was on the rise while the ratio of those aged 18 to 54 was declining. 

Given the situation, many industry leaders are looking to new technology for solutions, with AI as the core. They are also applying the geographic information system and Internet of Things to improve management efficiency. 

The Hong Kong market is small, but it has a huge demand for manpower, and its standards remain very high. 

Researchers, therefore, play a crucial role in solving these problems by turning research results into actual products. 

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