With an ageing population, productivity will stand as a more important driver of future economic growth. Productivity, in general, is closely linked to the level of education and training. The educational attainment of our population has been improving. With the introduction of the new academic structure, all students have access to 12 years of free education up to Secondary 6. The proportion of our population aged 15-65 with post-secondary qualifications has increased from 14.8% in 2001 to 27.3% in 2011. By 2015, over one-third of the relevant cohort of our population will have access to degree-level education. Taking sub-degree places into account, nearly 70% of the relevant age cohort can receive post-secondary education.
The above trend is resulted from the progressive development of our education system, and the increasing appetite for further studies among the younger generations. With improved access to post-secondary education, fewer secondary school students will join the workforce after graduation.
Training the Workforce
Post-secondary education should prepare young adults for entering the job market or pursuing further study. With the introduction of the new academic structure, institutions are placing increasing emphasis on nurturing students with broad knowledge base, important generic skills (e.g. communication, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, team work and lifelong learning) and international outlook so that they can succeed in a modern knowledge-based society in a globalised world. Some post-secondary courses, however, do not specifically focus on offering the students with the skills or knowledge directly related to the workplace. There are then questions about whether post-secondary courses are sufficiently aligned with employers’ needs and market demands.
On this, we may need to consider greater collaboration between employers and education leaders in the post-secondary sector so that the post-secondary education is relevant and useful in the workplace. We should help our young adults acquire the requisite aptitude, skills, knowledge and experience needed for joining the workforce and facilitating their career progression for the benefit of their personal development and our economy as a whole. In this connection, the Qualifications Framework (QF) implemented should have an important role to play.
Launched in May 2008, QF is a seven-level hierarchy covering qualifications in the academic, vocational and continuing education sectors. This design is deliberate to facilitate a seamless interface between academic and vocational sectors. It seeks to establish an accessible articulation pathway to promote lifelong learning with a view to continuously enhancing the quality, professionalism and diversification of Hong Kong’s workforce. A flexible yet clear pathway-map encourages our labour force and youngsters to pursue with passion their diverse interests and abilities, knowing that with perseverance and hard work, all pathways can lead to a bright future. The ultimate aim is to provide a platform for the seamless transition among school education, training and employment.
Qualifications are outcome-based and are not confined to academic attainment. In the academic field, outcome standards at lower levels are tied to the school curriculum, and at the tertiary levels, set by scholars. These standards are already quite well developed. On the other hand, in the vocational field, outcome standards need to be developed. They are determined by members of the respective industries through a consensual process. Therefore, considerable time and efforts have been spent in past few years on assisting the industries to arrive at their respective outcome standards.
Industry Training Advisory Committees
Outcome standards are underpinned by competency standards at different levels. The industry knows best what it wants. Therefore, the Government has been assisting industries in setting up their Industry Training Advisory Committees (ITACs). ITACs consist of representatives of employer associations, trade unions, professional bodies and regulatory bodies of the relevant industries, and serve as a platform for stakeholders to work on the implementation of the QF in their industries. The ITAC also provides a forum for exchange of views on the training needs and manpower development of the industries. Currently, there are 19 ITACs established, covering industries which employ about 46% of our total workforce.
Specification of Competency Standards
ITACs are tasked to draw up Specification of Competency Standards (SCSs) for the relevant industries. So far, 14 ITACs have drawn up their SCSs. The SCSs set out the skills, knowledge and outcome standards required of employees in different functional areas, and provide a basis for course providers to design training courses to meet the needs of the industries. As the competency standards are developed by industry, the relevance of the training programmes to the requirements of the industry will be ensured. SCSs also become the basis for industries to map out clear progression pathways whereby practitioners may draw up their own career development plans. Besides, SCSs are gaining increasing acceptance by employers as useful guides for the development of in-house training programmes and human resources management tool, such as staff recruitment and performance assessment. It was also announced in the 2013-14 Budget to allocate $10 million per year to support new initiatives under the QF, one of which is to design training packages based on SCSs so that the training would meet the needs of the industries. Post-secondary education providers are encouraged to develop their programmes with reference to SCSs where appropriate to meet the needs of the industries.
Vocational Education and Training
Suggestion has also been raised that people in Hong Kong should be more open-minded towards a wider range of career choices for the young generation. The community’s prevailing focus on academic performance, while welcome, may not work to the advantage of all our students. Vocational education and training, which plays a very important part in enhancing productivity and in supporting economic development, should not be derided as second-rate education. The society needs to encourage our people, particularly parents, to gain a renewed understanding of the restructuring that has taken place of our knowledge-based economy.
The sustained development of all sectors hinges on quality workers. Vocational and academic qualifications are equally important. We need a diverse pool of talents to sharpen the competitiveness of our workforce and provide a long-term economic driver for all industries. As such, apart from conventional academic subjects, we should progressively develop an education and training system for young people that will integrate academic studies and interest, as well as professional and vocational training, under an orderly framework that features diversity, provides multiple pathways and enjoys high recognition.
Seminar on Closer Alignment between Post-secondary Education Institutions and Industries
Given the strategic importance for the future development of the post-secondary education and the training of our workforce, the Committee on Self-financing Post-secondary Education (CSPE) organized “The Seminar on Closer Alignment between Post-secondary Education Institutions and Industries” (the Seminar) on 30 October 2013 aiming to serve as a spur to promote exchanges between institutions and industries.
The Seminar, with over 400 participants from various industries and institutions providing full-time locally-accredited post-secondary programmes at sub-degree and undergraduate levels, is one of the CSPE’s key work programmes in 2013.
Representatives of post-secondary institutions and industries were invited by the CSPE to attend the Seminar. Industry representatives from the logistics, banking, retail and engineering industries and relevant course operators were invited to share views on how to foster closer alignment between industries and institutions so that post-secondary education can effectively contribute to the economic development of Hong Kong and meet the needs of employers.
Committee on Self-financing Post-secondary Education