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Speech by PSLW at CPD Alliance Continuing Professional Development Seminar 2009 (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Paul Tang, at the CPD Alliance Continuing Professional Development Seminar 2009 today (June 18):

Ms Virginia Choi (Chairperson of CPD Alliance), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning.  It gives me great pleasure to be here today attending the Continuing Professional Development Seminar 2009 and to address such a distinguished audience.

     Last year, when I spoke at this seminar, the economy was blooming and the employment market was as buoyant as ever.  We are facing an entirely different situation this year.  The local economic and labour markets have changed drastically since the onset of the global financial tsunami last September.  Our unemployment rate rose from a 10 year-low of 3.2% in mid-2008 to the latest 5.3%.  The emergence of human swine influenza has also posed another source of uncertainty on Hong Kong's economic performance and employment situation.  This year's seminar certainly carries with it a special meaning amid the many challenges and uncertainties, and the theme "Aligning Talent Development and Business Strategy in a Time of Uncertainty" is indeed timely and thought-provoking.

     Human capital is one of the most valuable resources for any society.  This is especially true for Hong Kong, which has little natural resources to begin with.  Our present-day success is unattainable without a high quality labour force.  We need a dynamic, adaptable and resilient workforce to enhance our economic vibrancy and competitiveness at good times, and more importantly, to maintain our edge and help us to rebound quickly in the storms of adversity.  For these important reasons, the Government has invested heavily in manpower development with a view to nurturing a quality population to support the sustainable development of Hong Kong.  In response to the economic downturn and rising unemployment, the Government has stepped up efforts to create employment and training opportunities on all fronts.  I believe that the enhancement will also help businesses face the challenges ahead and turn crises into opportunities.  Allow me to share with you now what the Government has been doing to facilitate manpower development and continuous upgrading of our workforce in Hong Kong during this difficult time.


     With the wave of globalisation, the advent of a knowledge-based economy and the rapid development of technologies, the Government fully appreciates the need for individuals to pursue life-long learning and continuous self-enhancement to maintain competitiveness.  We have spared no efforts in providing our workforce with adequate opportunities of continuing education and training.  

     The Skills Upgrading Scheme, launched in 2001 with an injection of $400 million, aims to provide industry-specific training for in-service workers to upgrade their skills so as to enhance their employability and competitiveness in the labour market.  Through the collaboration of employers, employees, training providers and the Government, training courses are tailor-made to cater for the specific needs of the respective industries.  The scheme currently covers 26 industries. More than 250,000 training places have been provided so far, and about 120,000 in-service workers have benefited from the scheme.  The ERB will in phases take over the SUS so that the scheme will be sustainable in the long run.

     To promote life-long learning and encourage our workforce to pursue continuing education, the Government set up a $5 billion Continuing Education Fund (CEF) in 2002.  Local residents aged 18 to 65 may apply for a subsidy up to $10,000 to take any of the 7,400 courses registered under the CEF spanning eight specified domains.  More than 471,000 applications have already been approved.  Since mid-2007, the Government has implemented a series of improvement measures, such as linkage of the CEF to the Qualifications Framework and adoption of a risk-based monitoring mechanism for the courses, to enhance the operation of the Fund.  In the midst of the prevailing economic downturn, we propose to inject $1.2 billion into the Fund as a special and one-off arrangement to provide an incentive for our people to pursue further studies and self-advancement.  The new funding into the CEF will be able to benefit the community at large, irrespective of the education and employment background of our applicants, or their income levels.


     In addition to encouraging life-long learning and supporting in-service training, the Government accords the same priority and commitment to providing adequate and effective retraining for the unemployed and less-skilled members of our workforce.  In fact, retraining is integral to redressing the unemployment problem and maintaining social stability.    

     Over the years, the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) has been providing retraining services under the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS), mainly to the unemployed aged 30 or above and with education attainment of Secondary three or below.  Following the relaxation of its eligibility criteria in December 2007 to cover all local residents aged 15 or above with education level at sub-degree or below and the completion of a strategic review recently, the ERB has taken on new strategic roles and responsibilities to provide more comprehensive and diversified training and retraining services for a wider spectrum of the local labour force.  Manpower development has become the central perspective in designing its training programmes and sustainability the key to its service orientation.  To better reflect its new positioning, the ERB rebranded the ERS as the "Manpower Development Scheme" in July 2008.

     In anticipation that the global financial turmoil may continue to impact on Hong Kong's economy, the ERB plans to provide at least 123,000 training places in 2009-10 to meet the increasing training needs.  Resources have also been reserved for providing an additional 20,000 places to cope with any further increase in training demands.  In tandem with an increase in training places, the ERB will revamp and improve its existing courses, introduce new courses geared to the markets needs, and incorporate elements of personal attributes into the training programmes.  It will strengthen partnership and communication with employers, trade associations and professional bodies to achieve more effective course development and services.  The ERB will also ensure that its training courses gain recognition under the Qualifications Framework so that the graduates can secure recognised or even professional qualifications, in addition to placement support.

Employment support

     While firms were actively recruiting and retaining staff during this time last year, the rapid deterioration in the business landscape, marked by a series of business closures, insolvencies and redundancies, has led to a rapid rise in the local unemployment rate.  The Government is mindful of the need to provide timely and targeted assistance and support to the affected employees and job-seekers to help them through this time of difficulty.

     We will enhance and integrate various training and employment programmes in 2009-10, including the Youth Pre-employment Training Programme, the Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme, the Employment Programme for the Middle-aged, as well as the Work Orientation and Placement Scheme, to strengthen the training and employment support for the vulnerable groups of youth, the middle-aged and people with disabilities.  We will adopt a more proactive approach in providing employment assistance, such as customised counselling services and follow-up employment support, to employees who lost their jobs in retrenchment and closure during the financial tsunami.  We will also organise thematic job fairs, targeted at industries hard-hit by the economic downturn, and district-based job fairs to reach out to the unemployed.  

     Furthermore, to address the likely reduction in job opportunities for university graduates, we will launch an Internship Programme for University Graduates to provide about 4,000 places for interested graduates to work as interns and receive training in local or Mainland enterprises for a period of six to 12 months.  The objectives of the programme are to broaden the horizon of the graduates and help them gain experience, as well as to nurture talent for the industrial and business sectors of Hong Kong.

Admission of talent

     Apart from nurturing home-grown talent, the Government also endeavours to enhance the overall quality of our workforce and Hong Kong's competitiveness through attracting and retaining non-local talent.  Under the General Employment Scheme, professionals from around the world can apply to work in Hong Kong, so long as they have secured a job which cannot be readily taken up by the local workforce and the remuneration package commensurates with the prevailing market rate of Hong Kong.  Since July 1997, more than 230,000 talents and professionals have been admitted into Hong Kong under the scheme.

     The Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS), launched in June 2006, offers another admission channel for talents to Hong Kong without requiring them to secure an offer of local employment prior to application or admission.  The QMAS, with an annual quota of 1,000, seeks to expand Hong Kong's pool of human capital and aims at those with special skills or talents who are capable of contributing to Hong Kong's development.  In face of the strong global competition for talent and professionals, the Government enhanced the scheme in January 2008 to cast our net wider for quality migrants.  The key enhancements include lifting the age limit, adjusting the marking scheme so that younger people with less working experience may enter the selection pool, and streamlining the application procedures for extension of stay of successful applicants.  Since the enhancements, an average of some 100 applications come in each month, representing an increase of 67%.  The majority of successful applicants are professionals or executives at managerial level in different sectors.   

     Moreover, new immigration measures have been put in place with effect from May 2008 to attract and retain non-local graduates to live and work in Hong Kong.  From the 2008-09 academic year onwards, non-local graduates of full-time locally-accredited programmes at degree level or above may stay for one year in Hong Kong without any restrictions to take up employment.  Those who have previously graduated from these programmes may also return to work in Hong Kong, provided that the job is at a level commonly taken up by degree holders and offers market-rate remuneration.  These arrangements are among the most liberal in developed economies.  We strongly believe that a larger pool of talent will help increase Hong Kong's competitiveness, make it more prosperous, attract more capital and create more jobs.

Concluding remarks

     Ladies and gentlemen, no one knows how long this economic downswing will last or how deep it will go.  Nevertheless, Hong Kong's survival skills are at their sharpest during difficult times.  Although the situation may get worse before it turns better, we should not lose heart, and should bear in mind that opportunities are never far away.  While the Government is fully committed to fostering talent development and bracing our workforce for challenges ahead, we are not able to do this alone without the continued support and co-operation of employers, the business sector and professional organisations like the CPD Alliance.  Let us all join hands in contributing to the continuous upgrading of our workforce during this time of uncertainty.  

     Last but not least, I would like to congratulate our host for staging this prestigious event.  May I wish the seminar a great success and everyone here a very fruitful and rewarding experience.  Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, June 18, 2009
Issued at HKT 09:30


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