As Hong Kong’s economy transforms, strengthening vocational education is a must
- The perception that vocational training is inferior to a university education is both unjust and detrimental to the economy
- Vocational careers support industry growth and social mobility, both of which our city needs a lot more of
To draw back overseas talent, we need to restore favourable conditions, not just offer one-off incentives. As for developing talent domestically, we need to refresh our thinking on the type of education required to meet our future economic needs.
The aim of education is to nurture talent that enriches our communities and strengthens our economy. In his election manifesto, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu laid out “eight centres” of economic strength for Hong Kong, reaffirmed by the national 14th five-year plan. These include transport, technology and the arts. But is the city’s education system geared towards supporting the growth of these sectors?
This view not only downplays the potential of bright young people who choose this path, it also overlooks the reality that formal higher education is not accessible to all, for a multitude of reasons.
Vocational education is an important engine of Hong Kong’s economy. It provides a talent base for industries such as transport, aviation, innovation and technology, as well as art and culture – all among the eight centres of strength.
For the continued success and growth of Hong Kong’s core industries, we will need not only university graduates, but also a diverse pool of talent with different backgrounds and qualifications – especially when looking ahead to an economy driven by the kind of information, creativity and innovation that cannot be taught through textbooks or traditional subjects.
Promisingly, Hong Kong already has a fairly large pool of vocational talent. Around 200,000 students a year attend the Vocational Training Council, almost double the total number of new university students each year.
To strengthen vocational education in Hong Kong, the private and public sectors must join forces. Countries recognised for best-in-class vocational education, such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, typically receive significant support from the business community in programme design and training.
Hong Kong may have a different social and cultural setting, but opportunities for the private sector to develop and rebrand vocational education and inspire young people to embark on fulfilling careers are just as abundant. The hospitality industry, where stories of servers rising to top management are not uncommon, showcases how.
The recent brain drain serves as a chance to revisit the relationship between education and employability, especially when the form and boundaries of work have largely been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Together, we can create a more diverse education ecosystem in Hong Kong, one that not only accommodates young people who attend vocational institutes but sets them up for fulfilling careers with the prospect of advancement.
Bringing our education up to date to meet the needs of the future economy is critical to the city enhancing its competitiveness and securing its unique position in China’s development.
Sonia Cheng is a member of the Hong Kong Tourism Board and CEO of the Rosewood Hotel Group