"Lift and elevator companies in Hong Kong have a target to recruit about 150 new employees in 2011. However, there were only about 60 students from relevant disciplines at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education graduating this year," says Danny Luk, human resources director at Schindler Lifts (Hong Kong).
Fewer people are entering the sector and, according to Luk, the long training period is regarded as the main reason behind this. "[Based on the legal requirement,] a normal apprentice takes four years of training to be a qualified worker. It makes our industry less attractive for the younger generation," he says.
However, as there are many opportunities for employees to move up the corporate ladder, the sector's turnover rate is relatively low. For example, Schindler Lifts supports its staff undertaking further education, which is geared towards apprentices and field engineers. "We have sponsored the further study of many of our apprentices to the point that they become engineers or even managers in the company," says Luk.
Nevertheless, he reiterates that the industry must attract more people to enter the business given the natural ageing of the workforce. "The community has become reliant on lifts, escalators and moving walkways for transportation - hence, the demand for lift and escalator workers will remain high."
Lift and escalator safety is an area that the industry takes seriously, especially so following the 2008 incident involving an empty passenger lift plunging 14 floors at a Tai Po residential estate. According to Luk, the protection of employees and users is a core value of Schindler Lifts.
"We have a comprehensive set of work procedures and guidelines to ensure work safety. On top of that, we also focus on safety behaviour management. Our objective is to help employees achieve the 'zero unsafe act in the workplace and daily life'. This is because we believe safety to be more about behaviour than following rules," Luk says.
All new employees must obtain the government required "Green Card Safety Training" and pass a Schindler-specific programme as well. Generally, each employee receives five days of training a year on technical, non-technical and safety issues.
The company also conducts so-called "toolbox talks" which are on-site briefings carried out in small groups from time to time. They aim to remind workers of specific job-related safety procedures and explain new safety requirements from the company or government.
Luk says that by adopting these measures, Schindler Lifts has cut work-related injuries in the past five years by about 90 per cent.
The government has also introduced measures to enhance the existing code of practice and has conducted a comprehensive review of current regulations.
The Lifts and Escalators Bill, which is expected to be passed by the Legislative Council in early 2012, contains a series of enhancement measures concerning the regulation of lift and escalator engineers, contractors and workers.
Under the enhanced registration regime, all industry engineering professionals will need to be registered professional engineers with a relevant disciplinary background and at least two years' experience before they can register as lift or escalator engineers.
Qualified lift or escalator workers may apply for registration based on their academic qualifications, training and experience. As for lift and escalator contractors, a five-year registration renewal system is being put forward.
From 2008 to 2010, there were 113 cases of mechanical malfunction related to lifts, causing injuries to eight workers. From January to August 2011, there were 17 cases of malfunctioning lift parts. No injuries were reported.