Business is booming in China and Hong Kong for accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, but for partner Dave McCann that's a problem.
Heavy merger-and-acquisition activity in China and a rush of new share issues in Hong Kong is driving demand for the firm's services, but Mr McCann, who looks after hiring, can't find suitably qualified staff in Hong Kong to keep pace with growth.
"We have far more needs than we can meet. There is simply a lack of enough candidates of sufficient quality," said Mr McCann.
PricewaterhouseCoopers is not alone. So acute is the shortage of well-educated workers in the territory that the government has been forced to rethink its immigration policies. Yet analysts say the plans may not go far enough.
Failure to take stronger action could lead to a loss of business, exacerbating Hong Kong's slide down global competitiveness rankings as rivals such as Singapore push ahead to attract foreign professionals.
"Singapore has been very successful in attracting foreign talent," said Gary Lazzarotto, Asian chief executive of global executive recruiters Hudson.
"Hong Kong's initiatives are not fully fleshed out, they are still at the planning stage but we'd welcome anything that frees up the labour market."
Hong Kong's expanding role as a Greater China financial and supply chain hub has created a demand for professionals which cannot be met by a local workforce of just 3.6 million.
Unlike arch-rival Singapore, which has encouraged foreign professionals to work in the city state, Hong Kong has been more cautious for fear of a public backlash because unemployment levels are high, largely the result of low-skilled jobs shifting to China.
But a government study showing the territory would be short of 100,000 well-educated workers by 2007 has forced the government into action.
Plans include giving spouses of non-mainland expatriates the automatic right to work in Hong Kong from this summer.
A "quality migrant scheme" is also on the cards to allow 1,000 foreign professionals a year based on age and qualifications to live in Hong Kong without a prior job offer, officials said.
A scheme launched three years ago to encourage mainland Chinese professionals to work in Hong Kong had drawn more than 12,000 applications by the end of March this year, the government said.
"The aim of the admission scheme for mainland talent and professionals is to meet companies' needs and enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness in the global market-place," said Chan Leung-yuk, Hong Kong's principal immigration officer.
Apart from a lack of available professionals to fill jobs, other factors are also preventing job posts from being filled, such as bad air pollution and a shortage of places at international schools as more locals opt for English-language education.
In a ranking of desirable postings by consultancy ECA International, Hong Kong slumped to 32nd place from 20th last year.
The number of foreign residents in Hong Kong slipped to 517,560 at the end of 2005 from 524,200 at the end of 2004.
"Hong Kong needs to make itself a more attractive location," Mr McCann said. "It has become expensive again. Accommodation is small and expensive, the air pollution is bad and education costs may be higher than people are used to elsewhere."
Exacerbating the shortage, home-grown professionals are heading overseas to take jobs.
To help meet the shortfall, the government needs to do more than relax its policies, suggested David Eldon, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and until last year Asia chairman of banking giant HSBC.
"To ensure that Hong Kong has the skills required to match our ambitions, we need to go and find those who can fill in the gaps in our labour force," Mr Eldon wrote in the chamber's quarterly bulletin.
The territory is attracting record investment from companies seeking a foothold in China, but trade and investment officials needed to be aggressive to bring in talent, he said.
In financial services, some companies are raising salaries by 40 per cent to secure staff amid a booming market in initial public share offers and demand for advisers on merger and acquisition activity in China. PricewaterhouseCoopers is hiring 300 graduates in Hong Kong this year, up from 250 last year.
Reflecting the small pool of available talent, a survey of executives by recruiters Hudson showed Hong Kong had Asia's highest incidence of staff burnout - where performance deteriorates due to overwork.
"Part of the reason for burnout is clearly that organ-isations would hire more people if they were available," said Mr Lazzarotto.
The real danger is that business will be driven away from the territory, said Paul Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
"The labour shortage means some companies are having to be much more selective in accepting business," he said.
Mr Eldon said declining enrolment in business study and engineering degree programmes threatened to make things worse.
"Our universities need to aggressively recruit students from abroad," he wrote.
"It is disturbing that enrolment in all disciplines except medicine declined sharply in 2004-5."