A total of HK$326 million will be provided by the government for two Labour Department training programmes, more than doubling the number of training places to 35,000 for young school leavers who have been hit hard by the economic downturn. The department's Youth Pre-employment Training Programme (YPTP) and Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme (YWETS) will be integrated from this year. 'The unemployment rate of young workers aged 15-19 was 21.1 per cent between February and May. Although it is still lower than the 37.6 per cent in the times of [severe acute respiratory syndrome], it is still severe,' Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said at the launch-cum-award ceremony for the most improved trainees this year under the two schemes. The YPTP provides lessons in interpersonal skills and personality training, while the YWETS offers internship opportunities, on-the-job training and employment support. Mr Cheung said the integration of the two programmes would enable services to scale new heights and expand their scope. 'The integrated programme will operate on a larger scale and accept enrolment throughout the year. We will enhance our efforts to organise more tailor-made training-cum-employment projects with employers and training bodies and identify more internship opportunities from different sectors for sub-degree holders,' Mr Cheung said. He added that the quality of the integrated programme would be improved, with its personalised career guidance and counselling services extended by one year. Since the launching of the YPTP in 1999, 90,000 young people have been trained, and 61,000 have secured employment under the YWETS since its inception in 2002. Mr Cheung said the government had allocated HK$326 million to provide 35,000 training places under the integrated programme. The average number of applications for YPTP and YWETS was about 7,200 and 8,300, respectively, in the past three years. Applications for the 2009-10 integrated programme start today. The integration of the programme is seen as a move to avoid overlapping, after admission criteria for programmes by the Employment Retraining Board were relaxed, with the age limit and education requirements eased. Mr Cheung yesterday gave awards to 10 outstanding trainees and two past trainees from the two programmes. Among them was Endy Tam Kam-wai. He was promoted three times in three years at the cafe where he worked after completing the programme in 2006. 'I used to be an introvert and only liked playing computer games. But after joining the programme I found my target for life,' said Mr Tam, a senior catering officer at the cafe who also helps with management.