Hong Kong’s tertiary education suppliers are recognising the need to ensure vocational skills are integrated into their courses, as the territory faces up to a skills shortage “epidemic” highlighted by employment surveys.

One study – released last September by Hong Kong-based think tank the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre – polled 2,493 parents and students and found that a high proportion of university graduates did not match labour market needs. The majority of respondents – including 68 per cent of students and 69 per cent of parents – had never heard of ‘vocational and professional education and training’.

Furthermore four out of five respondents did not recognise vocational education and training (VET) as offering a professional qualification.

Unveiling the report, the centre’s vice chairman Lau Ming-wai, said: “A traditional mindset for academic success is deeply rooted in society. Going to college is a goal for most students, with VET being considered an inferior option. It is essential to enhance the development of VET, as it will help nurture a more dynamic talent pool for the city and build better pathways for young people and the long-term development of Hong Kong.”

Christine Wright, managing director of Hays in Asia, has said that skills shortages – and the recruitment and retention of talented employees – are “one of the biggest challenges facing employers” and “heighten the need for a review of recruitment policies and procedures in the midst of a war for top talent”.

The Hong Kong Construction Industry Council has announced it needs to work with the special administrative region’s (SAR) government to increase the supply of skilled workers, including carpenters, ventilation mechanics and metal workers, with a gap of up to 15,000 roles in the construction sector to be filled by 2020.

In the technology sector, about 40 per cent of local smartphone app development companies have to outsource their programmers, designers and engineers outside Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association. Marc Ansell, director at the Hong Kong operation of the London-based recruiting firm Become Recruitment, which serves the creative industry, said: “The world is changing fast, and the importance of technical skills becomes greater and greater. People have to get proper training to learn new technologies.” Ansell added. “Many jobs do not require someone with an academic degree but someone well trained with the skills to start work immediately.”

But these skills need to be integrated with higher learning to enable graduates to mix both creative and problem-solving abilities with practical knowledge. As a result, the Hong Kong Vocational Training Council (VTC), the territory’s largest local vocational and professional education and training (VPET) service provider, has been taking a more holistic approach to its work: “The image of VPET is no longer just about training,” a VTC spokesman said. “It has evolved into offering different programmes up to degree level, with a high percentage of the curriculum consisting of specialised content in vocational skills or professional knowledge.”

Its degree courses, run by the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong, include bachelor of arts (honours) in advertising and bachelor of science (honours) in healthcare. THEi also offers job opportunities with 80 partners, including Hong Kong Disneyland, Swire Hotels and Nike.

The VTC also offers two postgraduate programmes – international technology management and programme and project management – in conjunction with the University of Warwick in the UK. “Our graduates are well recognised. There is a 90 per cent average employment rate enjoyed by VTC graduates,” said the VTC spokesperson.

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