Hong Kongers rush to learn new skills ahead of life abroad

HONG KONG – Inside the bowels of a Hong Kong industrial building, Mr Eric Pun was among two dozen people crammed into a classroom learning to drill holes ‒ acquiring a new set of skills before heading abroad.

Savvy businesses have started offering crash courses in subjects such as home repair and hairdressing, capitalising on a wave of people departing Hong Kong as China cracks down on dissent and strict Covid-19 pandemic rules upend the economy.

For Mr Pun, a 35-year-old nurse emigrating to Australia with his family, taking the home repair class was both a practical cost-saving measure and a way to prepare mentally for the unknown.

“In Hong Kong, if there is a problem, you can go to the property management office or hire someone from the mall… but when my family lives in a house, I’ll have to rely on myself,” he told AFP.

Spending a day at Renobro, one of the handful of companies offering home-repair lessons, costs HK$1,980 (S$356) and courses are fully booked weeks in advance, according to company co-founder and instructor Lau Chun-yu.

“More than a thousand people have participated in our course,” Mr Lau said. “When we first started, we didn’t expect so many people would be emigrating.”

Mr Lau said his students, who are mostly in their thirties and include doctors and teachers, race through a one-day syllabus of more than 40 skills, such as caulking to prevent leakage, plastering, and rewiring appliances.

“Most of them aren’t well-prepared, but… they hope to go over as soon as possible,” he said, citing fears that foreign countries may tighten immigration controls in the long run.

Hong Kong is currently experiencing an exodus of local and foreign talent.

Many residents have baulked at Beijing’s sweeping crackdown on dissent following huge and sometimes violent democracy protests three years ago.

Stringent zero-Covid-19 rules also remain in place 2½ years into the pandemic, restricting daily life and isolating the city internationally.

Latest census figures showed a record dip in Hong Kong’s population, which fell 1.6 per cent to 7.29 million compared with a year earlier. The labour force has plunged to 3.75 million, the lowest in nearly a decade.

Many of those leaving are families with school-aged children.