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Speech by SLW at HKIHRM Annual Conference (English only)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the 27th Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management annual conference today (November 28):

Mr KT Lai, Mrs Monisa Tam, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to be here today for the opening of the 2007 Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM) annual conference.  This year marks the 30th anniversary of HKIHRM.  I would like to take this opportunity to offer my warmest congratulations to the institute and wish it continued success in the decades ahead.

     The first HKIHRM annual conference was held in 1980.  Over the years, the HKIHRM annual conference has become one of the most important annual fixtures for human resources (HR) professionals in Hong Kong.  Bringing together seasoned HR practitioners and prestigious business leaders, the conference provides a valuable platform for the sharing and exchange of professional experience, expertise and successful HR management strategies.  

     Since its inception in 1977, the institute has been working closely with the Government, in particular the Labour Department, and has contributed significantly to the development of human capital in Hong Kong.  Earlier this year, the institute and the Labour Department co-organised a youth employment workshop ¡V ¡§Step to Career¡¨ ¡V which is aimed at helping trainees of the Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme better equip themselves with job-seeking skills and enhance their employability and competitiveness.  HR professionals from the institute shared with the participating teenagers the latest information on the local labour market as well as tips for job searching.  Also noteworthy is the institute¡¦s enthusiasm in offering a wide range of training opportunities for both employers and employees.  

     The continuous development of human resources is, no doubt, one of the most critical success factors of winning enterprises in today¡¦s global economy. Similarly, our society must possess quality human capital to maintain its economic vibrancy in the face of increasing competition and fast-changing circumstances.  

     Over the past decades, Hong Kong has undergone a dramatic transformation from a manufacturing base to an international business and financial centre.  Yet such structural transformation has also presented our workers with a number of major challenges.  The economic restructuring towards high value-added and knowledge-based activities tends to cause greater adaptation difficulties for the less competitive members of our workforce. Globalization has accelerated the relocation of production processes and outsourcing of services out of Hong Kong.  Added to these, the extensive use of information technology and capital equipment has further chipped away employment opportunities for workers with lower skills and educational attainment.  

     Nonetheless, with challenges always come opportunities.  Globalization has also brought numerous business opportunities to the Mainland and other economies in Asia.  The close connections that Hong Kong has long established with these fast growing economies put us in an advantageous position.  Yet without a quality workforce, such advantage will not last us long.  Hong Kong has therefore no choice but to invest heavily in human capital. The Government has made considerable efforts to maintain and upgrade the quality of our local workforce over the past decade.  Let me share with you in the next few minutes what the Government has been doing and invite your further suggestions and cooperation.  


     The quality of our population hinges on, first and foremost, education.  And education is the best instrument to combat poverty and to move up the social ladder.  The Hong Kong SAR Government therefore attaches great importance to education and sees government expenditure on education as an investment, not spending.  Education has always been the largest item of Government¡¦s recurrent expenditure, accounting for 24% this year.  Through our ongoing education reforms, we seek to nurture a self-directed, adaptable and creative workforce with a global perspective and the capacity to absorb and apply new knowledge.  

     In his 2007-08 Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced the implementation of 12-year free education with effect from the next (i.e. 2008/09) school year. Secondary Three school leavers who choose to enroll in full-time courses provided by the Vocational Training Council and pursue an alternative pathway will be provided with full subsidy, as will their counterparts who decide to go on to senior secondary education.  This clearly demonstrates the Government¡¦s steadfast commitment to education and the nurturing of our next generation.  


     With the exponential growth of knowledge and rapid advance in technologies nowadays, skills could become easily obsolete and what was learnt in school has a limited shelf life.  As such, the Government also strives to ensure that those already in the workforce share the opportunities of continuing education and training.  Since 2000, the Government has launched a range of initiatives to motivate our workers to enhance their skills and employability.  For instance, the Skills Upgrading Scheme, launched in 2001 with an injection of $400 million, provides industry-specific training for in-service workers with low education and skills.  Through the collaboration of employers, employees, training providers and the Government, courses are tailor-made to cater for the practical needs of the respective industries.  The scheme now covers 25 industries and has offered over 200,000 training places.  

     Another example is the $5 billion Continuing Education Fund launched in 2002, which aims to encourage our workforce to pursue continuing education and lifelong learning.  People aged between 18 and 65 are eligible for as much as $10,000 subsidy to take recognized courses in eight specified economic sectors and skills domains.  There are now about 6,300 recognized courses and the list is still growing.  The Government has already approved more than 380,000 applications for subsidy under the fund.  


     The Government accords the same priority and commitment to ensuring that the unemployed and less skilled members of our workforce receive suitable retraining to help them cope with the demands of the changing economy.  At present, the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) provides about 100,000 training places a year with an annual expenditure of about $400 million.  Market-oriented retraining courses and services are offered under the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS) to those aged 30 or above with education level at Secondary Three or below.  Over one million training places have been offered under the scheme so far.  Currently, over half (60%) of the training places are full-time, placement-tied programmes which are offered free-of-charge.  The placement rate for the ERB¡¦s placement-tied courses has been highly satisfactory. In 2006-07 for instance, the average placement rate was close to 85%.   The ERB also provides part-time places which teach basic generic skills such as information technology, English and Putonghua.

     As announced by the Chief Executive in his 2007-08 Policy Address, the eligibility criteria of the ERS will be relaxed starting from 1 December 2007 (this coming Saturday) to cover young people aged 15 - 29 and people with education levels at sub-degree or below.  The ERB will also offer training programmes that are more diversified and geared towards market needs.  The number of training places to be provided will be increased by 50% to 150,000 in 2008-09 and doubled to 200,000 in 2009-10.  

     The relaxation of eligibility criteria of the ERS marks the first step to expanding and enhancing ERB¡¦s training and retraining services.  The ERB is currently undertaking a strategic review on its future role and responsibilities.  More concrete plans on how the Board will expand the scope and enhance the quality of its training and retraining services, including the optimum use of the Employees Retraining Levy, will be examined and drawn up under the strategic review due for completion by the end of this year.  

Qualifications Framework

     To foster an environment conducive to lifelong learning, we must also provide our workforce with a clear articulation ladder.  In this connection, the Government has established a Qualifications Framework (QF) to enable the development of flexible and diverse progression pathways.  The seven-level hierarchy supports qualifications of academic, vocational and continuing education, defining clearly the standards of and linkages between different types of vocational and academic qualifications.  The QF is expected to be formally launched within the second quarter of 2008.  With its implementation, the training market will become more vibrant and responsive; learners will have a better sense of direction in furthering their education and training; and employers will have a better understanding of the actual level of competency of their existing and prospective employees.  


     In addition to upgrading the quality of our local workforce, we also open our door wide to people of talent from all over the world.  We do so through two major schemes, namely the General Employment Policy (GEP) and the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS).  Under the GEP, individuals with special skills, knowledge or experience of value to, and not readily available in, Hong Kong may apply to work in Hong Kong.  The only prerequisites are that the individual needs to secure an employment offer in Hong Kong before entry and the salary is in line with the prevailing market rate of Hong Kong.  Since 1997, some 200,000 professionals around the world have come to Hong Kong through this channel.  

     The QMAS offers another admission channel for overseas and Mainland talent to Hong Kong.  Applicants are not required to have secured local employment prior to application or admission.  They are assessed under a points-system based on objective criteria such as age, language skills, academic attainment/professional qualifications and work experience.  Those capable of contributing to Hong Kong¡¦s economic development would be screened in.  Since the launch of the scheme about a year ago, the Government has approved the entry of about 190 applicants.  To attract more Mainland and overseas talent to Hong Kong, we will modify the QMAS by relaxing the restrictions on age limit and other prerequisites.  

Concluding Remarks

     Ladies and gentlemen, we have been leaving no stone unturned in promoting employment and enhancing the employability of our workforce.  The Hong Kong SAR Government will continue to invest in Hong Kong¡¦s human capital and encourage employers to do the same.  Indispensable to this ongoing effort is the continued support and co-operation of the business sector as well as professional organizations such as the HKIHRM.  We must join hands to foster the continuous development and upgrading of our workforce for a sustainable future.  

     Let me close by thanking my hosts again, and congratulate the HKIHRM on a remarkable turnout at this conference.  I wish the conference great success and everyone here a very fruitful experience.  Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Issued at HKT 12:52


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