While Hong Kong people are reluctant to go shopping, many are investing their savings in upgrading information technology (IT) skills. The Unisoft Education Centre, which claims to be the largest independent IT training services provider in the region, yesterday launched a range of courses which combine classroom teaching with e-learning using IBM's Mindspan platform. 'The Hong Kong training market has become very challenging since the economic situation reversed so dramatically,' said Unisoft marketing director Dick Tam Chi-weng. 'People are recognising that the best way to ensure their own job security is through self-enhancement and life-long education.' Unisoft will link its 200 courses with Mindspan Solutions, which include the Lotus LearningSpace system, consultancy and certified third-party content. All Unisoft students get free access to the learning platform. 'Students can revise and get more reference [materials] on the site, besides which, they can pick up IT skills more efficiently and effectively by attending classes outside the classrooms at their own pace,' said Mr Tam. Unisoft operates five centres in Hong Kong and one in the mainland, offering certification courses on platforms including Cisco, Microsoft, Sun Solaris and IBM e-commerce. Ernie Hu, head of IBM Hong Kong software group and Lotus Great China group, said IBM's programs were used widely in China and overseas. Mainland secondary schools would start using the platform this year. Mr Lam said it was too early to say whether Unisoft would offer independent online courses, but said e-learning was going to be a trend in Hong Kong. The company plans to invest about HK$20 million on e-learning in the next two years. Meanwhile, international technology training organisation New Horizons has opened its first computer learning centre in Hong Kong. The New Horizons of China Centre, in Wan Chai, will offer classroom learning and live, online classes to its students who can take the lesson in the classrooms, on a CD-Rom or via the Internet. Students enrolled in any New Horizons course will be allocated a private Web page with password access to class schedules, tracking progress and options for taking advantage of multiple-delivery methods. The company, which operates about 300 centres in 50 countries, initially will offer courses in administration and programming for Microsoft, Linux, Novel and security. IDC programme manager for learning services research Cushing Anderson said: 'Today's market requires learning solutions that deliver the best training for employees in multiple geographic locations. In addition to offering courses when and where students want them, the unique benefit of New Horizons Integrated Learning is that it features consistent content across various methods of delivery.'