Hong Kong is short of workers with a high standard of English, and schools must change their approach to improve the situation, the Examinations Authority said yesterday. Choi Chee-cheong, secretary of the Hong Kong Examinations Authority, said: 'There is an urgent need for people with good Chinese and English proficiency. We understand that the industrial and commercial sectors hope to speed up the process of improving people's English. But the current situation is that the number of people with a good standard of English is not meeting society's demands.' He was responding to a business-confidence survey conducted among 161 companies - 38 per cent of the members of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong - who provide work for 250,000 people. Almost 75 per cent of the firms said they were dissatisfied with staff proficiency in English. The criticism came despite the Government's $50 million Workplace English campaign, launched earlier this year to boost workers' standard of English. Mr Choi said the problem would not be rectified in the near future. 'Just taking examinations won't boost the standard. There has to be an English-speaking environment,' Mr Choi said. 'For instance, would students listen to English channels on the radio or watch English programmes on TV? And the situation won't just improve overnight, it requires a lot of hard work.' Mr Choi said shyness among students had hindered them from brushing up their language skills. He cited Shanghai as an example of a city where students would happily approach tourists in the street to practise their English. Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce, said: 'If Hong Kong wants to be an international business place, people must speak good English. In the view of many businessmen and the Government, the standard of English in Hong Kong is declining.' Mr Hammerbeck said that employers were also very surprised that many local workers were not able to communicate in Putonghua. 'If Hong Kong wants to be the middleman of global business in China, you must be able to speak the language of China,' he added. But Fan Kwok-fai, chairman of the Hong Kong Information Technician and Network Engineering Employees' Association, said: 'It all depends on how much English is required in your job. Many of my members who need to write e-mails in English all the time have no problem with it at all.' He said about half of more than 100,000 members of his association needed to use English frequently at work.