Scheme to give work experience under fire

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2008, 12:00am

Programme fails to build careers: critics

A government programme to give young people job experience by giving them temporary posts within welfare organisations has come under attack by critics who say the programme will not help participants build their careers.

Welfare organisations have complained they lack the resources to support the new staff, creating tension with existing workers.

'It is only a temporary job. Most of the people only work playfully as they know that it is the government paying the money to the welfare groups, which in turn employ them. There is no chance of any career at all,' said Kwok Chi-lam, a programme participant employed at the Jockey Club Wah Ming Lutheran Integrated Service Centre in Fanling.

The government in April provided HK$1 billion to create 3,000 three-year posts in NGOs for young people aged between 15 and 29 who are low-skilled and with low education.

The so-called programme workers' main duties are to assist social workers.

According to the Social Welfare Department, the 3,000 posts were created to enhance the employability of young people. Form Three graduates are paid HK$6,000 a month, while Form Five graduates receive HK$8,000.

Mr Kwok, who is in his early 20s, joined the Jockey Club Wah Ming Lutheran Integrated Service Centre as a so-called youth ambassador under a similar programme in 2003, with a HK$4,000 monthly salary. He has since switched over to being a so-called programme worker.

'I have worked 44 hours a week. I try hard to squeeze in time to study,' said Mr Kwok, now doing a diploma in digital graphic design. 'No one wants to continue in the welfare sector as all of us know there is no way we can continue our work and be a social worker later, even if we try hard.'

Mo Siu-tan, who worked as a youth ambassador at the same centre as Mr Kwok, got a permanent job there as a programme assistant, earning HK$5,000 a month.

But she quit last month when her supervisor asked her to become a programme worker, meaning she would not be entitled to a long-service payment if she left the post later.

'I am very disappointed,' she said. 'I was there for more than three years and I really thought I would go on. But then I really had to think about my career, so I decided to leave.'

She has since found a job as a clerk with a private company.

'The experience at the centre may not lead to becoming a social worker. It also fails to give us enough experience to work in the private sector, and many bosses do not recognise and understand what I did,' Ms Mo said.

Lam Yin-kwan, a personnel officer with the Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service, said misunderstandings were inevitable.

'We also face a dilemma trying to help these youngsters with our limited resources,' she said. 'Other than the wages, the government offers us nothing. We even have to find ways to buy additional chairs and desks for them.

'In the welfare sector, we do not have an ordinary employment relationship with our workers. We always want to help.'

Peter Cheung Kwok-che, president of the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union, said: 'While spending so much money, the government should really dig deeper to think about what can be done to help them enter the labour market.'

Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, lawmaker for the welfare sector, said he would talk to officials about how to help the youngsters.

The welfare department has told the 91 NGOs participating in the programme that they have to observe the Employment Ordinance when employing the young workers.

'The NGOs will encourage and guide the programme workers to develop their career paths and achieve the goal of open employment,' a department spokeswoman said.

Hong Kong's unemployment rate is 3.3 per cent. For people aged between 15 and 19, the rate is 4.9 per cent, while that for people between 20 and 29 is just 1 per cent.