Youth I.D.E.A.S. 54

Economic Department

Opportunities for Youth Employment Amid the Pandemic

2 November, 2020


Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong in late January 2020, the HKSAR government has introduced a number of measures to reduce social contact and cross-border travel in order to control the spread of the virus. However, these measures have hit the economy and employment hard. As a result, the labour market has been deteriorating since February 2020.


According to the Census and Statistics Department,[1] the overall unemployment rate reached 6.4% for the period July–September 2020, while the overall underemployment rate reached 3.8%.[2] The total numbers of unemployed and underemployed persons in the same period were 259,800 and 149,100, respectively, both new highs since 2003. The number of unemployed persons aged 15–34 increased to 106,900 while the number of underemployed persons aged 15–39 increased to 57,300, which amounts to more than 160,000 young people encountering employment problems.


At the same time, the pandemic has also hit graduates and young people who are seeking jobs. The total number of job vacancies was only 39,121 in June 2020, representing a drop of 46.7%[3] relative to June 2019. Even though some people were not affected by lay-offs, a survey has indicated that more than one quarter of employees have faced a pay cut of over 30%.[4]


The pandemic is not only affecting the local labour market, but also the global economy and labour force. Reports[5] from the International Labour Organization (ILO) show that there was a total working-hour loss of 17.3% in the second quarter of 2020 relative to the fourth quarter of 2019, representing 495 million full-time equivalent jobs. The crisis is expected to continue into 2021. The ILO has also pointed out that the younger and older age cohorts of the working population, as well as those in informal employment, have been hit particularly hard, more so than in past economic crises.


Facing the unclear employment future amid the pandemic, society needs to seek innovative and feasible solutions to address the youth employment problem, and young people need to make more forward-looking preparations in this new environment. Through an online survey and in-depth interviews with individuals who have encountered employment difficulties, this study seeks to understand the specific struggles of young people, their attitudes and specific actions taken to equip themselves to deal with the new employment market. It also aims to understand the changes of the overall economic environment and labour market through expert interviews. By synthesizing these analyses and findings, it is hoped that feasible recommendations can be made to address the youth employment problem amid the pandemic.


This study uses data collected by three methods during the period September–October 2020: an online survey of 600 members of The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups aged 18–34 who have left school, case interviews with 20 young people in the same age group who have encountered employment problems during the pandemic, and interviews with four experts.



  1. The pandemic has exposed the structural problems of the labour market while the rapidly changing market environment has brought about a “gig economy”. The job training programmes in Hong Kong implement changes too slowly to address this ever-changing labour market. Job training mechanisms need to be improved in order to respond to the market more quickly.
  2. The number of unemployed and underemployed youth has greatly increased. This means that the income of many young people has fallen because of unemployment, reduced working hours or being furloughed. Those with no full-time work experience and marginal workers such as temporary workers, part-time workers and freelancers are the hardest-hit groups.2.1 Young jobseekers who lack work experience

    2.2 Marginal workers

  3. In the gig economy, marginal workers who are flexible and able to develop a variety of employment skills should find it easier to make a living during the pandemic. Young people can learn different kinds of skills by continuing their education to adapt to the changing labour market.
  4. Respondents to the survey were not optimistic about future employment. They agreed that new types of employment will emerge in the labour market and many stated that they are willing to adapt to new market demands by learning new skills. But they are not sure how they can transform themselves and they may not have the necessary knowledge and skills. The governments of Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have seized the chance to speed up the digital transformation of society or planned ahead for the post-pandemic revitalization in addition to encouraging employment training. Hong Kong can refer to these policies.
  5. Some young people who encounter employment problems are reluctant to switch occupation because the context of the pandemic is unstable, making it difficult to plan ahead. Some also fail to adjust their mindset. It may help them to overcome this career development difficulty if society can provide opportunities for them to experience other occupations and help them adjust their mindset.5.1 The pandemic is unstable context. Workers are unable to predict if they can return to their jobs within a short time.

    5.2 More experienced workers fail to adjust their mindset to find a secondary job opportunity when facing employment problems.

  6. Respondents think that both government and employers can be more active in supporting youth employment, such as offering more part-time jobs and trainee jobs and helping young people to meet new market needs through training. A representative of the Manufacturer’s Association agreed that offering trainee jobs is a feasible solution while part-time jobs would depend on the nature of the job. The government can respond more proactively to unemployed youth’s demand for job training and help them return to or access the labour market.



  1. Introduce an employee training scheme in which programmes are proposed by the business sector to meet new demands for manpower quickly.
  2. Offer trainee programmes for university graduates to help them gain work experience amid economic downturns.
  3. Provide tax breaks for enterprises that offer more part- or half-time jobs to encourage more employment opportunities.
  4. Introduce a diversified local working holiday scheme that provides an opportunity to experience other jobs so that young people can be better prepared for the next stage of their career.
  5. The Labour Department should integrate different types of employment support information and provide guidance on possible options with a convenient online search method.
  6. Young people should develop a variety of employment skills in order to increase their employment opportunities in the ever-changing modern economy.









[1] Source: Census and Statistics Department web page. Retrieved 16 October 2020, from

[2] The employment figures for July–September 2020 are provisional.

[3] Census and Statistics Department. (September 2020). Quarterly report of employment and vacancies statistics. Hong Kong: Census and Statistics Department.

[4] JobsDB. (15 July 2020). “More than one quarter employees face a pay cut by over 30% Employees pursue for more flexibility in work arrangements”. Retrieved 23 July 2020 from

[5] International Labour Organization. (23 September 2020). ILO monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. (6th ed.) Retrieved 12 October 2020 from–en/index.htm; International Labour Organization. (30 June 2020). ILO monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. (5th ed.) Retrieved 23 July 2020 from–en/index.htm