HELPING displaced workers find new employment through the on-the-job training (OJT) programme is only the first step in the Employees' Retraining Board's (ERB) far grander design. The longer-term goal is to tackle the twin problems of Hongkong's acute labour shortage and the emerging skills gap. The intended solutions are enlarging the territory's workforce and upgrading its level of technical ability. The first will be dealt with by offering specially tailored courses in languages, mathematics and computers to Hongkong's 'reserve army', the housewives who have been out of the job market for years. Initially, their decision to stop work may well have been voluntary, most probably to raise a family, but their previous skills are now no longer adequate for the automated modern work environment. Mr Chow Tung-shan, executive director of the OJT scheme, estimated that ''scores of thousands'' of home-makers could become available to the labour market if the initial re-training opportunities were provided through ERB-funded programmes. The second objective will be addressed by fostering a radical change in attitudes towards training. Rather than thinking of training as a pre-employment phase, the ERB wants to stress the benefits of continuous training at every stage of the working life. The underlying thinking is that a serious skills gap could hinder the further development of Hongkong's economic progress. ''It is our ambitious goal to fill this skills gap,'' said Mr Chow. The approach will be in phases. At the outset, those displaced workers who re-train and enter new industries will be offered further opportunities to improve their skills. These individuals will clearly be the easiest to identify, since they will have ''graduated'' through OJT in the first place. Then, employees of companies linked to the OJT programme will have the chance to apply for the skill upgrading courses run by the ERB. The advantage of this idea is the synthesis of two apparently separate benefits into a win-win situation. At first sight, this appears to be a scheme that will simply assist employees upgrade their skills. Ultimately, however, the employer benefits at least as much. More highly skilled staff result in increased efficiency, higher productivity and greater profitability. Mr Chow said the ERB would face precisely the same problems as employers did, in finding the people for which the OJT and its other schemes were intended. ''We know they are out there, but they are very widely scattered. Very few will be readers of this newspaper, and many may not read any newspaper regularly,'' he said. ''Nevertheless, we are mounting a broad-front campaign to alert them to the OJT scheme. The main methods will be producing tens of thousands of leaflets which will be available through city district offices, the Labour Department and through housing estate offices. ''We will be appearing on television and, more effectively we find, on the radio. ''In particular, we will have a 13-week series of radio phone-ins on RTHK starting in July, highlighting all our schemes,'' he said. On the employers' side, the ERB is aiming at a total of more than 2,000 registered members. ''We are looking for a snowballing effect. When our first members see the benefits of having a ready-made pool of potential recruits pre-screened for them, they will tell their friends and business contacts,'' said Mr Chow.