Far more women than men have applied to study in the new nine-month skills training programme, sparking allegations from unions that the courses lack general appeal. About 70 per cent of the 4,424 people who applied to join the government programme were women, although the latest official statistics show that most of the jobless - 68.2 per cent - are men. 'We don't know why so many more women applied. Anyone is allowed to apply,' a spokesman for the Education and Manpower Bureau said yesterday. The programme, aimed at equipping the unemployed with skills to help them find jobs, was introduced as a solution for victims of the economic downturn. But union leaders said it might be misdirected as the courses did not appeal to enough men. The courses mainly teach service-related skills, such as basic word processing, bookkeeping and clerical duties. 'Those skills are most suited for office assistant and sales jobs - positions mostly held by women,' said Cheung Lai-ha, a spokeswoman for the Clothing Industry, Clerical and Retail Trade Employees General Union. 'Men may be reluctant to take these courses because they don't think they'll find a job in those fields.' Unionists also said the $4,000 monthly allowance students receive was too low for men. Men tended to be the main breadwinners in the family and felt they must find higher-paid jobs rather than spend nine months learning new skills. But Lam Ying-hing, an organiser for the Hong Kong Women Workers' Association, said women were applying because it was the only option they had. 'Men with few skills have more options than low-skilled women,' Ms Lam said. 'They can do construction work, lift things or work as night watchmen. But women are limited to a few types of jobs such as waiting on tables or cleaning. And even those fields are laying off workers.' A spokesman for the Manpower Bureau said the types of courses were selected based on projections on job growth and skills demand in coming years. Skills to be taught were also intended to be 'transferable' skills that could help the applicants find jobs in a number of fields. 'It's not just for office-related jobs. They can learn these skills and use the programme as a stepping stone to further job training,' the spokesman said. The programme, which will start next month, can accommodate only 1,000 people. Staff are selecting participants.