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Speech by SLW at 25th inauguration ceremony of HK Federation of Business Students (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, titled "Lustre of Change" at the 25th inauguration ceremony of the Hong Kong Federation of Business Students today (April 15):

Kasper (Mr Kasper Lee, President of HKFBS), distinguished guests, members of HKFBS, ladies and gentlemen,
     It gives me great pleasure to share the joy of the Hong Kong Federation of Business Students' inauguration ceremony tonight.  This is a particularly memorable occasion as it marks the jubilee year of the Federation.  Over the years, the HKFBS has served as a bridge between business students and the business community, and played a sterling role in equipping our university students for the business world.

     I have been given a rather challenging, yet timely, topic to speak on - the "Lustre of Change".  Twenty five years ago (that is 1984 and before many of you were born), Hong Kong, as the most successful British colony and the gateway to China, was poised for a new economic era with the opening up of the Mainland.  We were undergoing a major economic restructuring then: from a manufacturing-based city to a service-oriented economy.

     Today, as the first Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong has established itself as a major financial and service centre, as well as a thriving business, telecommunications and logistics hub.  We are now Asia's world city.  And despite these dramatic changes, Hong Kong remains very much the Pearl of the Orient.  

     Indeed, we have managed to preserve our lustre and continued to shine in a glittering fashion.  In fact, we have gone from strength to strength.  As always, we are seeking to scale new heights.

     Looking back over the last 25 years, Hong Kong has stood up admirably well to many challenges, both external and internal.  We have stood the test of time.  There were the stock market crash in 1987, the Asian financial crisis in 1997, resulting in a severe property slump and, more recently, the SARS epidemic in 2003 which triggered not merely grave public health concern but also great economic hardship.  Unemployment hit an all-time high of 8.5% in the summer of 2003.   However, we have surmounted these difficulties with resilience and our hallmark "can do" spirit.  We have lived from crisis to crisis and emerged each time with renewed vigour.  In short, we have not only survived but thrived and come out much stronger than before.

     With the onset of the global financial tsunami, I am afraid that we are in for another round of economic onslaught.  As an international financial centre and open economy, we are not and cannot be immune to the effects of this world contagion.  Our unemployment rate rose from a 10-year-low of 3.2% to 5.0% in a matter of six months.  Of course, we are not alone on this score.  Unemployment in the United States hit 8.5% last month.  The number of jobless in the United Kingdom reached two million for the first time in more than a decade.  The situation in the region is equally bleak.

     It is widely believed that the worst is yet to come and we should brace ourselves for even tougher times ahead.  So how can one show quality that outshines the others, that is, show one's "lustre", amidst all the adverse changes in the economy?  I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on two interlinked issues which might be of interest to you: the government's role in enhancing youth employment and the positive mindset of young people.

     Like many other economies, the HKSAR Government is responding to the current crisis with a multi-pronged approach.  Our strategy is to stabilise our financial system, support enterprises and preserve jobs.  We have made job preservation and creation our prime task.  We have rolled out initiatives worth billions of dollars over the last 12 months.

     Young people are our most valuable asset.  You are our future and hope.  Helping young people to transit from school to employment has always ranked high on the Government's agenda.  We will redouble our efforts in this area in view of the austere economic outlook in the near term.  For youths aged 15 to 24 with education attainment of sub-degree or below, we will integrate our two flagship youth employment programmes, that is the Youth Pre-employment Training Programme and the Youth Work Experience Training Scheme currently run by the Labour Department - to provide through-train training and employment support.  

     For fresh university graduates, in view of the expected marked decrease in vacancies in the coming months, we are mobilising the business sector to provide 4,000 internship places in local or Mainland enterprises, with government subsidy.  The scheme will provide a much-needed entry point into the employment market when the outlook is bleak.  It will also present a valuable opportunity for work experience to be gained and for a network of contacts to be built up.  

     Unfortunately, there is considerable misunderstanding about this University Graduate Internship Programme.  Allow me to take this opportunity to clear the air.  The programme is meant to provide an additional option for fresh graduates to equip themselves for stepping on a career pathway of their choice in the future, at a time when the labour market is shrinking.  The scheme is designed solely for the good of and in the interest of our graduates, no more nor less.  It serves as an anchor for fresh graduates during rough times, and a springboard for future career development when the economy bounces back.

     There is a popular saying that nothing is constant except change itself.  Life is, after all, a process of changes.  Change itself is not something to be feared.  In fact, it is not change that haunts us; rather it is the uncertainty that goes with it.  Against the backdrop of the vicissitudes and ups and downs that Hong Kong has undergone over the past quarter of a century, let me leave with you with a few of my personal thoughts.

     As our future leaders, you must remember the stark reality that there is no short-cut to paradise.  In other words, no pain, no gain.  You must not and cannot shy away from difficulties.  Rather than running away, you should face up to the challenges and turn adversities into opportunities.  Hong Kong ticks largely because we are a resilient, entrepreneurial, hardworking, open, pluralistic and fair community with a free-enterprise economy and the rule of law.  Just as Hong Kong successfully blends the best of the East and the West, our young leaders must fuse modern professional knowledge and state-of-the-art skills with such essential personal qualities as versatility, tolerance and compassion, modesty, integrity and a sense of proportion.  In essence, essential hard skills must go hand in hand with vital soft attributes.

     Let me finish by wishing you all and the Federation every success in the many decades ahead.

     Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Issued at HKT 20:00


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