Labour hurdles

José I. Duarte The theme of human resources is a constant one whenever the development of the local economy is discussed. Two related, albeit distinct, topics usually come to the fore: first, the need to import workers; secondly, the need to improve the quality of local human resources. Both issues are socially sensitive and these aspects must be addressed. But let us just focus on the labour market here. It is widely recognised that the local pool of workers, both in quantity and skills, is insufficient and there is a need, to give it a more recent flavour, to develop indigenous talent. In some ways, the first issue, importing workers, is seen as the problem and the second, qualifying the locals, is seen as the solution. If we deal with these issues as if they were two sides of the same coin we run the risk of oversimplifying the problems and end up taking actions that will do little to resolve the many imbalances in the labour market or, more generally, the economy. In the first place, better qualifications or not, the simple fact is that the local pool of workers is just not big enough – either to maintain the economy at its current levels, or to support the development of the world level leisure and tourism place set as its ultimate objective. On the one hand, tourist related activities are labour intensive and the local demographic trends are not favourable. On the other hand, high quality tourism services require a labour force with more refined skills than, with few exceptions, the region is used to producing. Under any circumstances, it is difficult to see how the city could achieve the numbers of people needed, with the appropriate skills, in the timeframe that such economic development would require. A growth path based on attracting, satisfying and retaining visitors is a much harder business than providing channels for capital flows. And we are not even factoring in the needs, whatever they might be, derived from the much vaunted, if not always properly defined, economic diversification. In the second place, a policy of qualifications is more than piling up certificates, properly earned or otherwise. There is no dearth of organisations in Macau providing titles in varied domains. It is still to be seen that such titles actually provide many of the local workers, in particular the younger ones, with the adequate skills to offer them a fair opportunity of success in their careers or businesses, by their own merits and not by administrative decree Good qualifications are tested in the workplace, are not a statistical gimmick. And success based on hard work, excellence and achievement has not been the dominant paradigm. These considerations imply that we do need a more refined approach to human resources issues. But of course, kicking the can down the road is always a default alternative.