Hong Kong companies urged to take on more apprentices to encourage vocational training

Vocational Training Council chairman says city should follow Swiss model, where about two-thirds of those aged 16 choose a vocational path

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 7:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 10:58pm

The government needs to do more to upgrade vocational facilities and encourage companies to take on students on apprenticeships, the head of Hong Kong’s largest vocational education provider has said.

Speaking to the Post on the sidelines of an international conference on vocational and professional education, Vocational Training Council chairman Dr Clement Chen Cheng-jen noted that most Hong Kong companies, unlike their Swiss and German counterparts, were not so keen on hiring inexperienced young people.

He said only big companies or listed ones were willing to take on council students for industrial attachments or internships.

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Chen said there was little incentive for small or medium-sized companies to do so. They make up 98 per cent of firms in Hong Kong.

“From their standpoint, why should I spend time and resources on a young person when after the training or attachment, this person will go and work for someone else, such as bigger companies offering better packages,” he said.

The chairman suggested taking a page out of the Swiss training book. The country has one of the best education systems in the world and recently ranked first in a global innovation index for the seventh consecutive year.

According to Dr Cornelia Oertle, director general of the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training and a speaker at the conference, the private sector in Switzerland was greatly involved in the apprenticeship system. She noted that about two-thirds of those aged 16 chose vocational education.

“They train their own workforce and also [ensure apprentices’] competence sticks to what industry needs,” she said.

Oertle explained this was a tradition in Switzerland, with companies viewing it as a social responsibility.

“The government gives companies a sticker that they can put on their entrance door. It shows that they are approved to [offer] apprenticeships, which have a high reputation,” she said.

Oertle also said studies showed the average benefit for companies offering an apprenticeship of three to four years was 50,000 Swiss francs (HK$400,000).

Chen said one way to reference the Swiss system was through an ongoing pilot scheme called Earn and Learn offered by the council with support from the government and various firms.

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Besides studying, a youngster worked a few days a week while earning about HK$8,000 to HK$9,000 a month and pocketing a subsidy of HK$2,000, he explained.

The chairman added trainees typically stayed with a company for two to three years, where they gradually became productive.

He said the pilot scheme ­offered 4,000 places and they had been filled every year since its launch in 2014.

Chen urged the government to increase the number of places on offer.

The chairman also hoped the government could give the vocational sector part of a one-off HK$18 billion boost to education expenditure recently announced by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po.

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He said the council had many old facilities. “They are small and cannot be modified ... Some of the programmes we are offering need customised buildings to accommodate heavy equipment.”

Chen added that more resources should be allocated to vocational education as a very high percentage of their students were from lower-income families and a significant number had special educational needs. He noted they needed greater support.