The SCMP/admanGo market report of jobs advertised in local recruitment publications shows a decline of 1.4 per cent from 38,063 openings for the second quarter to 37,548 vacancies in the third quarter. There are broad positives if one considers a year-on-year 32.2 per cent increase from the 28,410 positions advertised in last year's third quarter, but no one needs reminding how low a base 2009 offers as a point of comparison.
Respective figures for the third quarters of 2007 and 2008 were 81,972 and 65,933 and it's notable that traditional hiring patterns see the July-September period surpassing that of the previous three months.
Sector by sector, highlights certainly exist. Retail servicing continues to add jobs, buoyed by the influx of high-spending mainland tourists. The last quarter saw 3,765 posts advertised in education and training, linked in part to the transition to the restructured curriculum in 2012. And new positions are still being created in the hotel, health care, construction and finance sectors.
But what remains a concern is that the robust growth of this year's first half is tailing off and uncertainties in the external economy may slow general recruitment.
"If talking about the macroenvironment, the growth momentum will ease," says Irina Fan, senior economist at Hang Seng Bank. "Labour statistics have been quite good for the last few months, but we must be aware this is a lagging indicator." Fan expects Hong Kong's GDP growth to slide to 2 per cent in the final quarter from 7 per cent plus in the first half. She also points out that while many sectors were able to create jobs after the financial crisis with the help of government incentives, the export-dependent trade sector has lost about 42,000 positions since then.
Amid the talk of recovery, people lose sight of the fact that trade and logistics still account for 23 to 25 per cent of employment in Hong Kong. Inflows of investment capital, tourist dollars, and large-scale infrastructure projects can all have a positive impact on jobs. But with the trade sector still "under water", according to Fan, a full-scale return to pre-crisis levels