As a trade unionist, Executive Councillor Tam Yiu-chung has a vested interest in speaking out on labour issues. But he was impartial in warning that although China's accession to the World Trade Organisation would bring about economic benefits to Hong Kong, it would not bring more jobs for about one-fifth of the local workforce who are poorly educated. Numbering about 700,000, these workers are over 40, missed out on school when they were young and so are unqualified for WTO-induced professional, managerial and marketing jobs. Mr Tam's warning is a timely reminder that while Hong Kong has become a service centre and is actively encouraging the development of hi-tech industries, it must not forget the plight of its unskilled workers. Their hard work underpinned the territory's past economic success as a manufacturing centre but their employment prospects in an increasingly knowledge-driven economy are diminishing. Many of these middle-aged workers left school on or before completing primary school because free and compulsory junior secondary education was not introduced until 1978. Before then, for many 12-year-olds from poor families who failed the Secondary School Entrance Examination, getting a job in a factory, often illegally, was the only realistic option as their parents could not afford to send them to private schools. Into the new millennium, Hong Kong needs a highly educated workforce which can keep up with advances in a knowledge-based economy. The Education Commission has proclaimed that the age of lifelong learning has dawned and is revamping the education system to ensure students are taught how to learn on their own. However, let us not forget that many of our young people's parents will have great difficulty in learning a new trade because they have not had the opportunity to acquire basic verbal and numerical skills. The Employment Retraining Board has done much to help them obtain new jobs, but a poll would probably reveal that many have not yet been retrained.