The theme of Education and Careers Expo '99 - Get Yourself Ready for the New Challenge - could not be more appropriate as students vie with thousands of unemployed adults as well as each other for a diminishing list of good jobs. Job-seekers therefore need to equip themselves with the most up-to-date skills to win the attention of employers. Planning a career is also important as factors such as job opportunities, career growth and demands of the market all have to be considered. To help young people and those considering furthering their careers through on-going education, the Trade Development Council and the Labour Depart ment are co-hosting the Education and Careers Expo '99 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre from today until Sunday. The expo, now in its ninth year, features 216 educational exhibitors representing a range of local and overseas colleges, universities and vocational training institutes. More than 60 exhibitors from professional associations, public bodies, governmental departments and private enterprise will also be representing the career section of the expo. Last year, more than 185,000 visitors attended. Opening times for the expo are 11am to 7.30pm today, tomorrow and Saturday, and 10am to 6pm on Sunday. Louisa Poon, Labour Department senior officer, said the expo would provide a range of comprehensive information on education, careers and training. She said the expo was open to anyone as the changing labour market meant there was a significant importance on people acquiring new skills and upgrading their present skills. 'For those still attending school, we will advise them on what education they will need to achieve their career goals. They can also talk to industry professionals to gain information to gauge if it is the right career for them,' Ms Poon said. 'For the job seeker, if they are looking for a new job or wish to change careers, they can meet representatives from the various sectors on specific training matters to ask what they expect from their respective sectors in future years.' On the education side of the expo, representatives from 12 countries, including first-time exhibitors Ireland and Singapore, will be available to discuss educational opportunities and what their overseas students can expect. Benjamin Chau, Trade Development Council senior manager (exhibitions), said the mainland would play a significant role in the fair by participating for the third year. Representatives from four universities in Shanghai will be available to discuss Putonghua-language courses and other programmes. 'With Hong Kong now under Chinese sovereignty, I can foresee the language problems between the two places becoming greater. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn the language, experience the culture and be well-positioned to work in China-based activities,' he said. 'The economic development of China has been very fast and has grabbed the world's attention. Hong Kong has played an important role in that development. Many foreign firms have businesses in China and they need qualified people with skills to work in the country.' On the careers side of the expo, exhibitors from various trades and organisations will discuss job opportunities and the state of their respective sector. New exhibitors this year include the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Hong Kong Productivity Council, the Airport Authority, Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp, Hong Kong Securities Institute, Cathay Pacific, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and various insurance companies. Each will supplement its exhibit through the careers video show which will run for the length of the fair and include short films on different branches of the civil service, profiles of statutory and professional bodies, vocational training and the various industries. Mr Chau said the expo was not so much for job recruitment as to help Hong Kong youngsters plan for the future. With unfavourable market conditions and the economic downturn, there was a great need to sharpen the SAR's competitive edge and that of its people by means of further education. 'I would recommend young people plan their careers early as life is short. If you spend a few years in a certain area then find your interests change and you change jobs, you may lose a lot of opportunities,' he said.