MR SAMUEL Wong Ping-wai, chairman of the Employees' Retraining Board (ERB), has made a bold promise in launching the On-The-Job Training Scheme. ''Sign up with OJT, and we can virtually guarantee employment,'' he said. Designed to complement the existing ERB programmes, the OJT will also address the prime difficulty of the present retraining schemes - low allowances. ''At the moment, when people are being retrained in ERB schemes, we can give them only about half the salary they might expect for that kind of work in the open market,'' said Mr Wong. By contrast, OJT rules stated that employers who took on people registered with the ERB had to pay them the going rate for the job. Under the OJT scheme, a subsidy of one third of that salary was paid direct to the employer. ''This neatly solves the problem, killing three birds with one stone,'' he said. ''Trainees get properly paid, post-training placement is immediate and employers know their new staff are getting exactly the training they need.'' The ERB is a statutory body, funded by government but operating independently of it. Following a small-scale pilot scheme last year, the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, secured a HK$300 million capital grant as a pump-priming injection. This financial security means the board can now plan pro-actively, asking ''what needs to be done?'', rather than: ''what can we afford to do?'' The regular income of the ERB derives from the levy charged on employers of foreign labour, such as airport construction firms. This is collected for 24 months in advance, at the rate of $400 per month per contracted foreign employee, and yields an annual income of approximately $100 million. To qualify for the OJT scheme, job seekers have to meet certain criteria. They must be employees or former employees who have worked in the same industry for at least two years and who have lost their job, or are about to lose their job, because their business has closed down, or relocated. They will also qualify if they are currently underemployed. Other eligible people are ''home makers'', or housewives, who have been out of the job market for two years or more and now want to rejoin the working world. OJT applicants must be Hongkong permanent residents, more than 30 years of age, and be willing to retrain in a new job or industry and then join it fully after retraining. The criteria for accrediting employers requires the firm, if it does not already have such a scheme, to draw up a training programme and appoint a competent person as supervisor of that programme. Wages offered to trainees must be in line with market rates, the firm must have a staff of 20 or above, and agree to abide by the rules of the OJT scheme. At the launch date, close to 100 companies had signed up to the scheme. To prevent the exploitation of a subsidised labour force, the rules specifically allow for the suspension or disqualification of any member firm that registers an abnormally high turnover rate of trainees without justifiable reasons. These sanctions also apply if the firm provides false information or documents, or if it is a source of any complaints that are subsequently substantiated. Existing ERB schemes span a wide range of retraining courses provided by the main three appointed training bodies. These cover vocational training, and the clothing and construction industries. The YMCA and Caritas are also closely involved. Courses include hotel housekeeping, clerical training and Chinese computer typesetting. ''All but 40 of the 600 or so who have gone through these courses, have found employment,'' Mr Wong said. ''And for that 40 it was their own choice. For one reason or another they couldn't travel to take up work, so are waiting for local opportunities, The OJT scheme is expected to focus on what might be called support staff jobs, such as the laundry, luggage and housekeeping services in hotels, office building caretaker work, office assistants, and messenger work. Training in basic office equipment will form part of the core courses.