VTC programmes offer Hong Kong students a path to success that doesn't depend on HKDSE scores

  • Vocational Training Council’s Pro-Act course on car maintenance is allowing teens realise their dreams
  • Students can earn and learn at the same time, as they complete the programme to become qualified auto mechanics
Rhea Mogul |

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The vocational training programme helps students get practical, hands-on experience in fields they love. Photo: Rhea Mogul

While most students spent this year frantically preparing for the HKDSE exams, some chose to take a different path. 

They enrolled in a vocational training course, and are already on the way to becoming qualified mechanics and engineers.

Students at the Vocational Training Council’s Pro-Act Training and Development Centre are completing a vehicle maintenance degree, while gaining hands-on experience and earning money.

Stuton Chen Ho-lam, 18, said the things he was learning in regular school were not useful to him. He wanted to do something with his chosen career path: working with vehicles. 

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“I didn’t think Chinese, English and maths were relevant to me,” says Stuton. “Chinese literature especially was something that I didn’t think was useful. I aspired to become a vehicle maintenance technician, and decided to enrol in this vocational course.” 

Stuton feels studying the engine of a car has been an extremely useful experience. 

“I can fix any problem in a car engine, and I have been able to gain  a lot of practical experience,” he says. 

Ethan Ip Yuen-hong, 19, said that he, too, felt mainstream school was not suitable for him.

The good thing about a vocational degree is that one can earn money and work experience while picking up a trade, say students at the Vocational Training Council’s Pro-Act Training and Development Centre. Photo: Rhea Mogul

“When I was younger, I really loved cars,” says Ethan. “And in secondary school, there was one lesson called applied learning. I chose to work with cars for this subject, and eventually found out that it was my passion. So I joined this programme, and have realised that I am very good at car maintenance.” 

Students enrolled in the programme can earn money while studying. Both boys said this is an added bonus. 

Ethan and Stuton, first- and second-year students, respectively, have been earning a monthly salary of up to HK$10,500 as part of an “earn and learn” scheme. This allows them to gain work experience while studying. They must complete four years to become a qualified mechanic. 

Their teacher, Eddie Ling, says there are a lot of jobs in this field in Hong Kong, so the duo are almost guaranteed to find work upon graduation. 

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Ethan says there isn’t much emphasis on work experience in the HKDSE. 

“That’s perhaps the best thing about a vocational degree,” he says. “We gain three years of work experience before starting a full-time job, preparing us for what’s to come.” 

Ethan says the closure of the centre because of the coronavirus outbreak has had a big impact on their studies. 

“We haven’t been able to do the practical work,” he says. “It’s difficult to do such a hands-on course via online classes.” 

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Ling says it has been a struggle for him and the students. But hopefully they will be able to catch up.

In Hong Kong’s highly competitive environment, both Ethan and Stuton agree that their path might be unconventional or even risky. But the pair say they are passionate about it and are having fun learning. 

“Exams, assessments and grades are important everywhere,” says Stuton. “Even here there is an importance placed on them. But as for life experience, what I have learned here is highly relevant to the workplace, rather than learning algebra and literature.”