The focus of Hong Kong’s policy address this year should be youth unemployment. The latest unemployment rates for those aged 15-19 years and 20-24 years are 18.8 per cent and 14.3 per cent respectively – up to triple the overall average of just over 6 per cent.
Past crises around the world have showed that youth unemployment comes with heavy costs for society. With the onset of a financial crisis, young Hongkongers could be suffering the effects of this unemployment for up to a decade. High unemployment rates may even cause suicide rates to increase, creating a huge financial burden for the government and the economy in lost output.
The upcoming policy address can tackle the problem; I suggest the following ways:
First, provide five-year interest-free loans to local start-ups. Given the economic downturn, many start-ups are pessimistic about the future. As such, this bold move would support the start-up momentum that the government has spent the last few years nurturing, including its investments in innovation and technology of more than HK$100 billion (US$13 billion).
Second, export smart city services to Asean countries. The global smart city market is estimated to be worth US$1.56 trillion, with countries such as Thailand and Vietnam eager to develop their own smart cities as their economies boom. Hong Kong is well-positioned to export its expertise, given its internationally recognised achievements in this field.
Third, add coding to the school curriculum. Many countries have made computer programming and coding part of the regular curriculum for primary and secondary school education, including South Korea, Britain, Italy, Finland, France, Estonia and Israel. Hong Kong should do the same and speed up computer training to prepare our young people for future challenges.
Fourth, use information technology to enhance transparency on Covid-19. When the epidemic first broke out and the rumours began to spread in Hong Kong early this year, the government quickly put up the Interactive Map Dashboard to provide a clear picture of the community outbreaks. We can also use this dashboard to list the effectiveness of the relief programmes, such as the number of companies and employees that have benefited, so as enable the public to monitor the government’s performance.
Engaging the whole of society, especially young people, to tackle the youth unemployment crisis should be the priority of the coming policy address and of the Hong Kong government.
Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong