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Speech by SLW at Opening Ceremony of Education & Careers Expo 2016 (English only) (with photos)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the Opening Ceremony of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council's Education & Careers Expo 2016 today (January 28):

Margaret (Executive Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Ms Margaret Fong), Consuls-General, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to open this year's Education & Careers Expo.

     Let me first thank and congratulate the Hong Kong Trade Development Council for staging this signature event for the 26th time and bringing together over 800 educational institutions, government departments, semi-government bodies, professional associations and private enterprises from within and outside Hong Kong.

     It is no exaggeration to say that this four-day international Expo serves as an excellent showcase of Hong Kong's role as a major education hub and a dynamic job market where education and career opportunities abound.

     I would also like to warmly welcome our exhibitors from the local community and overseas. Our students and job seekers will certainly benefit from the updated information, and the diverse job, training and further education opportunities, that you have all brought to this platform.

     You have made the right choice joining this Expo and coming to Hong Kong. Our biliterate (Chinese and English) and trilingual (English, Cantonese and Putonghua) education, and our emphasis on whole-person development and life-long learning and capacity building prepare our young people for pursuing an overseas education or taking up employment or training, whether locally or abroad. Given our unique "one country, two systems" framework, our strong fundamentals of the rule of law, economic freedoms, free-market philosophy, together with our pluralistic culture, and international complexion, Hong Kong is well placed to play the key role as a "super-connector" between the fast growing Chinese economy and the rest of the world.

     Despite the volatile global economic environment, Hong Kong's labour market has held largely stable. Our latest unemployment rate stayed at a low-level 3.3 per cent for the sixth consecutive period, which is close to full employment. Both our labour force and total employment grew further by 1.3 per cent in 2015 to 3 803 900 and 3 925 400 respectively. While we will stay vigilant in view of the considerable downside risks to our near-term economic outlook, especially the sustained weak trend in inbound tourism, our economic fundamentals remain sound and robust.

     Hong Kong is also blessed with many career and education development opportunities.

     As clearly spelt out in the Chief Executive's Policy Address and Policy Agenda a fortnight ago, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government will endeavour to strengthen our role as a centre for international legal and dispute resolution services as well as international maritime and aviation centre. By promoting smart manufacturing and attracting high value-added innovation and technology industries suitable for Hong Kong, we plan to "re-industrialise" our economy. All these will not only strengthen our internationally competitive pillar industries (i.e. professional services, financial services, logistics and tourism), but also create quality and diversified employment opportunities for our workforce.

     To better leverage on and contribute to the success of our nation's Belt and Road strategies, on the education front, we will set up a priority theme under the Quality Education Fund to encourage students to learn more about the Belt and Road countries in terms of their languages, cultures and economic development. Reciprocal exchanges from students living along the Belt and Road areas to Hong Kong will also be promoted. These will mean more frequent and deeper educational exchanges in the form of field trips, exchange programmes, study scholarships and even job internships for Hong Kong students and those in the Belt and Road areas.

     To provide an opportunity for our young people to gain first-hand experience living and working in a foreign culture, we have been fostering bilateral Working Holiday Scheme arrangements with other economies. So far, we have such arrangements with 10 economies: namely New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Canada, Korea, France, the United Kingdom and Austria. I am pleased to note that all these 10 countries have participated in this Expo. Since its establishment in 2001, some 70 000 Hong Kong youths have participated in the working holiday arrangement, making it a highly popular scheme for our young people.

     Whilst there are new opportunities for Hong Kong and its population, we do have our fair share of challenges.

     Like many other developed economies, Hong Kong is facing a large demographic shift as the post-war generation of baby boomers starts to retire. Improvements in health and shrinking fertility rates also add to our rapidly ageing population. The life expectancy at birth in Hong Kong is currently 81.2 years for males and 86.9 years for females, almost the highest in the world. According to the latest official population projections, these figures will rise to 87 years for males and 92.5 years for females by 2064 in 50 years' time. One in seven Hong Kong residents is now a senior citizen but this ratio will rise to one in three by 2064.

     At the other end of the equation, our labour force (excluding foreign domestic helpers) is projected to increase slightly from 3.60 million in 2014 to 3.65 million in 2018, and then taper off to 3.43 million in 2031 and further down to a low of 3.11 million in 2064. The overall labour force participation rate is also projected to fall from 59.3 per cent in 2014 to 48.6 per cent by 2064. The double demographic challenges of an ageing population plus a shrinking labour force make it imperative for Hong Kong to devise robust human capital strategies so that we can continue to be vibrant and competitive.

     To ensure that Hong Kong continues to forge ahead and remain competitive as an international financial, business and logistics centre, the Hong Kong SAR Government has put at the top of its policy agenda the tasks of nurturing local talent and making the best and full use of our own people. This is where education comes into play. After all, as a small and open economy, human resources constitute our most valuable asset. This is why we have continued to invest heavily in education. In this financial year (2015-16), spending on education alone accounts for a significant 22 per cent ($71.4 billion) of government annual recurrent expenditure - the lion's share of all policy areas.

     To augment our local workforce and to ease sectoral bottlenecks in local labour supply, we need to suitably bring in expertise and experience from outside Hong Kong. This is to enhance our competitiveness and maintain our international dimension.

     To build a system whereby young people of different interests, backgrounds and talents can thrive and realise their potential to the full, we have put much emphasis on teaching life-learning in schools and at the community level. We are working to promote a culture whereby both vocational education and academic education would be seen by students, parents and employers as equally promising paths to a prosperous future for young people. We have also announced the establishment of a $1 billion fund to provide long-term support for the development of the Qualifications Framework, which seeks to promote lifelong learning and skills upgrading. To enhance the employability and overall competitiveness of different sectors of the local workforce, the Government injected $15 billion into the Employees Retraining Fund in early 2014 to finance the long-term operation of the Employees Retraining Board. All these speak volumes about our commitment to nurture local talent and provide opportunities for upward social mobility.

     The current-term Government has also mapped out a holistic, comprehensive and visionary population policy. Our 50 policy initiatives cover the main areas of promoting sustainable growth, unleashing the potential of the local workforce, enhancing the quality of home-grown talent, attracting foreign investors and talent, fostering a family-friendly environment and embracing opportunities in an ageing society. We will step up our efforts in facilitating, enabling and attracting women, the "young old", new arrivals, ethnic minorities and persons with disability to join or rejoin the workforce. We will strive to build a versatile and diverse workforce to propel Hong Kong's economy forward.

     As you can see, by coming to this Expo, you have entered a vibrant, growing education hub and expanding career market, where cultures and talents of the East blend harmoniously with the West, and where opportunities abound. Hong Kong will remain an open international city in the many decades ahead. Our door will remain wide open to talents from outside Hong Kong.

     On this note, let me wish this major event and all participants every success. My best wishes also to you all for a happy, healthy and prosperous Year of the Monkey. Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, January 28, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:14


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