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close this bookPolicy Development and Implementation of Technical and Vocational Education for Economic Development in Asia and the Pacific - Conference Proceedings - UNESCO - UNEVOC Regional Conference (RMIT, 1997, 520 p.)
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Planning and Provision of Technical Education and Vocational Training in a Rapidly Changing Economy: The Case of Hong Kong

Dr Ross Harrold
Department of Administration and Training
University of New England
Armidale NSW 2351

Kwong K. Wong
Centre for Academic Development
Deakin University
Geelong Vie 3217


Planning to adapt educational systems to meet continually changing economic and social needs always poses difficulties. In an open, dynamic economy, there are inevitable time lags between identifying significant changes in the industrial, occupational and skill composition of the workforce, then further lags in designing, staffing, equipping and implementing new or altered awards to respond to these changes. Moreover, phasing out courses no longer relevant and establishing new ones cannot be done simply or quickly

These problems face all educational levels in all countries, but in different ways and with different levels of urgency. It may be interesting and instructive to learn about how planners cope in rapidly growing, economically dynamic places where there are incessant, pressing needs to continually match the levels and composition of course offerings against workforce needs and to make continuous, significant adaptive changes to avoid skill bottlenecks which may retard growth. We shall firstly introduce some relevant planning and implementation principles, then describe how technical education and vocational training (TEVT) is planned and implemented in Hong Kong - one of the fastest growing of the dynamic 'Little Tiger' economies.

Some principles of planning and provision

At the outset, we should remind ourselves that not all firms depend directly and solely on formally trained technical staff, for there are other avenues by which workers are trained. A 1994 Coopers and Lybrand survey1 asked the owner/managers of 60 small Australian firms which were exporting or planning to export what were the key things they needed to be successful. Seventeen percent replied “staff skill” and another 25% gave “staff attitude” as their answers. While these staff qualities are seen to be an important requirement of successful activity, they did not rank them as high as such factors as “access to capital” or “expanding markets”. The owner/managers of some 37% of the firms covered indicated requirements for staff training subsequent to recruitment. However, formal off-the job training was seen as effective by only 43% of respondent firms, compared with industry association training (43%), formal in-house (67%) and on-the-job (100%).

1 NSW TAFE Commission (1996) Training Needs of Small and Emerging Export Firms Sydney, Planning and Evaluation Unit, Ch. 3.

So according to these owner/managers, formal technical training and vocational education plays an important, but not necessarily a critical, role in the success of their ventures. Staff skills can be acquired by other means. Nevertheless formal preservice and inservice instruction provides an important means of avoiding skill bottlenecks across a burgeoning industrial sector2. If a technical and vocational training sector fails to keep up with the changing skill needs of industry, sooner or later the competitiveness of the country's industries will suffer.

2 This is particularly so in economies which manufacture and market technically sophisticated products.

Challenges to TEVT planners and administrators

There are four broad planning and implementation challenges which face the technical and vocational educations system of a country experiencing economic change. These are information flows, organisational change, physical growth and restructuring and curriculum adaptation.

· Environmental scanning to indicate what is around the next corner, is a vital, continuing task of all educational sectors, but particularly that which serves the immediate needs of the workforce. The most general, formal source of information is probably the government statistical bureau which usually reports periodic surveys of industrial and labour market trends and levels of worker qualifications. The most effective source of information is, however, regular formal consultative meetings between representatives of leading industries and TEVT planners and administrators to discuss emergent training needs and to evaluate the nature and standards of current training provision.

· Successful, continuing organisational change requires regular reviews of the continuing relevance of decision-making structures at head and regional office level, as well as within colleges. This is to ensure that union and industrial power groups are not able to block necessary downgrading of some courses to free resources for new awards and courses.

· Such changes are more easily handled in situations of overall growth than in static or declining economic conditions. The reason is that the additional resources brought by enrolment growth can be directed at the emergent skills areas without having to withdraw resources from static or declining areas. Even so, growth into new areas may require resources which are beyond the capacity of government to provide its public education system. Particularly would this be so where the areas are technologically sophisticated and require large investment in capital infrastructure. In such cases, it is fortunate if private industry can be persuaded to lend or donate the use of its equipment for student use.

· Curriculum adaptation and extension is an ongoing challenge for TEVT providers which serve workforces of dynamic economies. Major rewriting of existing courses and the development of new courses are both expensive and time consuming activities - especially if substantial handbooks and lecture notes are required. Further time is required to recruit and/or train teachers who have sufficient expertise in the new fields. Significant new courses may require a year or two to be offered. Then it may be a further year or three before the first students graduate. Different systems have tried various techniques to reduce these time lags. As we shall hear, the Hong Kong Vocational Training Council has tried a few of its own.

Let us now consider Hong Kong's story. After hearing about the background of the island and its economy, we shall learn how the planning and implementation of TEVT is approached.

Territorial Characteristics of Hong Kong

Geographic and demographic situation

Hong Kong is situated at the east of the mouth of the Pearl River off the Guangdong Province in Southern China. The territory, with a total land area of 1092 sq km3, comprises the island of Hong Kong, the Kowloon peninsula, the New Territories, and hundreds of outlying islands. This piece of small land provided dwellings for a population of 6.3 millions in 19954. The proportion of population in the economically productive ages of 15 to 64 years is 71 per cent and the age dependency ratio stood at 399 per 1000. Over 98 per cent of the population are Chinese with Cantonese forming the large community.

3 Source: Hong Kong 1996. Hong Kong Government Printer.
4 Ibid.

Socio-economic structure

The long-term high rate economic growth after the second World War has placed Hong Kong amongst one of the East Asian newly industrialised economies (NIEs). Its per capita GDP at current market price reached US$23,019 in 19955.

5 Ibid.

Hong Kong began its history as one of Asia's excellent port. Its main economic activities bore strong connections with entrepĂ´t trade. It was not until the 1950s that industry was added to the economic system. The massive inflows of resources of labour, capital, and entrepreneurial skill from China between 1948 and 1951 transformed the economy. The Territory's prosperity relied on the development of labour-intensive manufactures such as textiles, garments, and plastics till the mid of the 70s. Since the 1980s there was a change of pattern, Hong Kong strived to restructure its manufacturing industry towards producing technology-intensive and human capital intensive products such as electronic components and parts for computers, watches and clocks, radio broadcast receivers, toys, games and sporting goods, etc. Growing competition from the region and rising protectionism in the world have forced the Territory's industry to improve productivity by automation. The wave of industrial restructuring and automation continues till the present days. Since the mid-1970s, Hong Kong has not only retained a strong industrial sector, but has also successfully developed into a major financial and commercial centre with a service, post-industrial economy. In 1995 the percentages of distribution of GDP by economic activity of industry and financing including insurance, real estate and business services were respectively 16.9 and 26.16.

6 Ibid.

Levels of schooling

The levels of completed schooling in Hong Kong is high. In early 1990s Hong Kong has already achieved gross enrolment ratio of 100% at the primary level; and in terms of enrolment at the secondary level, it has achieve a gross enrolment ratio above the average of the upper middle - and comparable to the average of the high-income countries7. All children must, by law, be in full-time education from the age of six to fifteen or complete Secondary 3 (Grade 9 equivalent in Australia).

7 Asian Development Bank. 1991. Education and Development in Asia and the Pacific.

Planning and Implementation of TEVT in Hong Kong

Organisation structure

There are two major patterns in terms of prime responsibility for formulating and implementing policy for TEVT. The first one basically has all aspects of TEVT come under a national educational authority. In the second pattern, education and training come under the aegis of separate authorities but with considerable degrees of coordination. Hong Kong follows the first pattern to place technical education and vocational training under one body, the Vocational Training Council (VTC). The VTC was reconstituted from its predecessor, the Hong Kong Training Council in 1982 to assume the responsibility for providing both technical education at the craft and technician levels and industrial training at all levels8. At the same time when the VTC was established, the Technical Education and Industrial Training Department was set up as the executive arm of the Council by the merger of the Technical Education Division of the Education Department and the Industrial Training Division of the Labour Department. The VTC, as a statutory agency, has authority over the Territory's manpower policies. Its functions are to:

i) advise the Governor on the measures required to ensure a comprehensive system of technical education and industrial training suited to the development needs of Hong Kong;

ii) institute, develop and operate schemes for training operatives, craftsmen, technicians and technologists needed to sustain and improve industry;

iii) promote and regulate the training of apprentices;

iv) establish, operate and maintain technical colleges, technical institutes, industrial training centres9.

8 Knight, H.R., 1989. 'Advances and innovations in technical and vocational education in Hong Kong', paper presented to the Hong Kong Education Research Association 1989 Annual Conference.

9 Vocational Training Council Annual Report 1994/95.

In a place with continuously changing and restructuring economy like Hong Kong, the advantage of bringing manpower forecasting and planning as well as the operation of institutions for technical education and centres for skill training under one body has not only provided Hong Kong with a streamlined and efficient TEVT system but also one that is flexible and responsive to economic and technological changes. By placing manpower planning, technical education and vocational training under the control of VTC has minimised duplication of courses, optimised the use of resources, and standardised quality of courses offered by different institutions.

Manpower forecasting

Its free market economy with continuous changing needs and the Government's 'positive non-intervention' policy towards economic activities has made Hong Kong a difficult place to make workforce projections. Yet Hong Kong was among the pioneers in practising manpower forecasting for TEVT purposes. The first forecasting exercise can be dated back to the mid-1960s.

To ascertain the manpower needs of the major industries and commercial sectors, the 20 training boards and general committees assembled under the umbrella of VTC conduct surveys of the sector for which they have been established to collect updated information on current employment and future manpower requirements by principal jobs as well as employers' views on training. The surveys adopt the “employers' opinion” technique which was first developed by the International Labour Organisation in the 1960s. Data and information obtained from these surveys thus formed the basis for the forecasts.

To achieve more reliable manpower forecasting in an ever changing economy, the following techniques were used by the training boards to prepare projections.

Cycle time of industrial surveys

The surveys are spread over a period of two years. In deciding on a two-year cycle, due consideration has been given to the fact that a two-year cycle should be frequent enough to keep pace with technological, economic and social development within the period.

Adjustment according to market 'signals'

The importance of labour demand and supply 'signals' from various sources such as 'key informants' in employer, government and trade unions, analysis of traces studies of past students, etc. in making reliable manpower forecasts has been discussed elsewhere10. To ensure market 'signals' were adequately reflected in the process of manpower forecasting and planning, survey results are analysed by the responsible training board taking into account all factors such as prevailing market requirements, market trends, technological changes, internal promotion, and natural wastage in order to derive manpower demand projections by different skill levels. Information for this comes both from the many other surveys such as employment survey of graduated and tracer study of past students and from the members of the respective training boards. All members of the training boards are appointed by the Governor and with few exceptions all are prominent figures in the industrial, commercial and service sectors and education11. The boards' membership thus provides an important forum for collecting views and feedback that help to make reliable projections.

10 Richter, L. 1994. Manpower planning in developing countries: Changing approaches and examples. International Labour Review, Vol 123 No 6. Kanawaty, G. 1985. Training for a changing world: Some general reflections. International Labour Review. Vol 124 No 4.

11 Knight, H.R. op cit.

The method of assessing manpower demand used by the training boards is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Manpower Demand Assessment12

12 Figure adapted from Vocational Training Council. 1989 Report on Demand for and Supply of Technical Manpower in Hong Kong's Major Industries. HKVTC.

This method consists of basically i) conducting a manpower survey; ii) analysing survey data, taking into consideration of market 'signals'; iii) forecasting manpower demand using adaptive filtering technique and taking wastage into consideration; and iv) aggregating annual demand for similar principal jobs in different sectors.

Adaptive filtering

A forecasting technique to produce a family of short- to medium-term projections based on past and present employment data. In brief, available data used in this method are weighted. Heavier weights are given to the more recent data making forecastings that are more dependent on the recent data13.

13 Vocational Training Council. 7989 Report on Demand for and Supply of Technical Manpower in Hong Kong's Major Industries. HKVTC.

Course planning

Having established the annual demand for manpower by discipline and level, the planners' next step is to determine the supply. The number of planned course completions in each discipline and level from all educational institutions is collected and after taking account of the participation rate, gives an estimate of annual supply of newly qualified workers by level and discipline.

The demand for and supply of manpower information by occupation and level is used by relevant institutions including the technical colleges, technical institutes, and training centres, which are operating under VTC, when planning their student numbers. The mechanism of how courses are planned and developed in technical institutes is illustrated in Box 1 next page14.

14 Based on VTC document W-PA-9 WT-DCC and the interview on 1 July 1996 with the Assistant Executive Director (Technical Institutes) and the Senior Education Officer (Administration) (both of VTC) by the authors.

In the course planning process although forecast demand is said as the basis for determining enrolment numbers, however, social demand, particularly in areas where the actual demand of study places far exceeds the projected manpower demand, is also taken into consideration.

Managing Changes in the Development of TEVT

A theme of this paper is that the economic development of Hong Kong has been characterised by rapid growth and structural transformations. Hong Kong's success has depended upon the ability of its business and workforce to respond flexibly and rapidly to the market-driven changing economy. Since human capital has played an important role in sustaining Hong Kong's growth, it is essential that its TEVT system has also the ability to respond to changing manpower requirements arising from the economic and technological changes. Some of the measures in managing changes by concerning authorities in developing TEVT are examined here.

Manpower and training policy

Although the government's stance in managing Hong Kong's economy has been labelled as 'positive-non-intervention' there were growing government involvement in the expansion of manpower training and education.

Box 1. Process of Curricula Development and Change

The government has undertaken initiatives to formulate policies on the development and provision of TEVT to respond to the different phases of economic and structural transformation. Recognising the increasing importance of Hong Kong as a manufacturing and industrial centre15, the government as early as in 1951 set up a Technical Education and Vocational Training Investigating Committee to collect information about the facilities available in Hong Kong and to obtain evidence about future requirements. Reports prepared by this Committee led to extensions of the old Hong Kong Technical College, the seeding institution which supplied the technical manpower for the light-industry bloom in the 1950s and 1960s, and the establishment of the Standing Committee on Technical Education and Vocational Training in 1954.

15 Education Department Annual Report, 1950-51.

The mid-1960s saw the rapid expansion in the manufacturing sector, particularly in the textile, garment, and plastic industries which together accounted for 67 per cent of the value of domestic exports in 196516. In response to the manpower demand for the industrialisation, the Industrial Training Advisory Committee (ITAC) was established in 1965 as a consultative government machinery to suggest long-term strategies of industrial training. In 1973 the ITAC was replaced by the Hong Kong Training Council (HKTC) with broader terms of reference to advise the government on the measures necessary to ensure a comprehensive system of manpower training geared to meet the developing needs of Hong Kong's economy17.

16 Hong Kong 1965. Hong Kong Government Printer.
17 Labour Department Annual Report 1972-73. Hong Kong Government Printer.

The economic recession in 1974-5 made the government aware of the importance of restructuring of the manufacturing sector by broadening the industrial base. In response to this most possible industrial restructuring the Advisory Committee on Diversification was set up in 1979 to examine and advise the Government on strategies to diversify the economy by the establishment of new activities in the manufacturing and other sectors of the economy18. The Committee in its Report suggested, inter alia, a more active attitude on industrial development, and augmented involvement of the government in sponsoring and financing training schemes. Consequently, the Vocational Training Council was reconstituted from the HKTC with enhanced jurisdictional authority in formulation of manpower policies and provision of TEVT to satisfy the changing needs of Hong Kong.

18 Report of the Advisory Committee on Diversification. 1979. Hong Kong Government Printer.

Change of course provision

In managing industrial changes it is important for course provision to be flexible and up-to-date. Hong Kong's manufacturing companies as a response to rising labour cost and recruitment difficulties started, in the 1980s, relocating their manufacturing operations across the border into China resulting in the reduction of numbers employed in the Territory from about 850,000 in 1985 to about 390,000 in 1995. In the same period Hong Kong diversified rapidly into a financial and servicing centre. The numbers employed in the tertiary services sector increased over the decade from 1,080,000 to about 1,870,000. In response to the changing needs, emphasis on course provision in the technical institutes has shifted in recent years from courses for the manufacturing industry to courses for the commercial and services sector as well as from craft level to technician level courses. The number of full-time equivalent enrolment studying manufacturing and production courses shrank from 2,904 (16.0% of total enrolment) in 1986/87 to 1,421 (7.1% of total enrolment) in 1995/9619. Consequently, the Council decided to merge the manufacturing engineering department with mechanical engineering department in one technical institute to accommodate a new computing studies department to meet the growing demand for information technology manpower.

19 Source: VTC Committee Paper VTC (CTE GC) INF 11/96: Classification of Technical Institute Courses by Natural and Change of Course Provision in Response to the Hong Kong Economy in the Past Decade.

In response to the increasing demand for supervisors and managers to work for companies with business in China, the Council's Management Development Centre initiated a project 'Managing in China' in 1994/95. This project aimed to identify the training needs of Hong Kong managers who have management responsibilities in China and determine the most suitable learning resources.

Provision of new and higher level training for new industries

One way to manage change is to anticipate change and to provide training to people prepared to engage in new industries and to retrain those who want to change career. Throughout the different phrases of Hong Kong's industrial restructuring, there were always new industries emerging from the manufacturing sector. In the 1950s, textile was the largest export earner and in the 1960s the garment industry has taken the lead. Plastics industry peaked in the 1970s but the diversification in the 1980s to early 1990s has led to the era of electrical and electronic industry, toys, watches and clocks, and the manufacturing of jewellery20. Subsequent to the advent of automation and computer technologies, the information industry is prospering in the present Hong Kong.

20 Wong, T.Y.C. 1994. Hong Kong's manufacturing industries: transformation and prospects. Leung. B.K.P. and Wong T.Y.C. (eds) 25 Years of Social and Economic Development in Hong Kong. University of Hong Kong.

The VTC since its inception has taken pro-active steps in providing necessary pre-service and in-service training program to newly emerging industries. For example, a Watch Repairing Course was offered in 1979, when a new technical institute was opened, to supply the necessary manpower for the then new and blooming watch and clock making industry. This was the first and only course of this kind in the Territory.

Other examples are the development of those electronic and computer technology related training centres, such as the Electronic Design Technology Training Centre in 1990, and the Information Technology Training Centre in 1995, to provide training infrastructures to escalate the territory's technology into the field of high value-added engineering and marketing.

Equipment and facilities

Introducing new technologies in TEVT institutions requires adequate and readily available funding for the necessary equipment and physical facilities, such as a CAD-CAM centre. To provide adequate practice to students, there has been a tendency to purchase equipment similar to that used in industry where possible. Because of the pace of technological change which has made teaching and training equipment to become obsolete more quickly than previously. In particular with the introduction of the computer technology into the equipment used in almost all industries, the equipment strategies of the past decades are no longer appropriate at all instances. To partly overcome the equipment problem due to rapid technological advancement, the two newly established technical colleges have adopted a 'free loan of equipment from industries' scheme where companies will loan those expensive modern equipment to the colleges free of charge for a specified period of time. The colleges during the loan period will keep the equipment in good condition and substantial repair including the entering into a service contract with the company21. Under this scheme, the technical colleges will constantly have up-to-date equipment for use in training the students at very minimum maintenance costs.

21 See HKVTC internal paper on 'Sample Document for Free Loan of Equipment from Industries'. 1994.

Course contents

In order to permit future adaptation to new occupational profiles, frequent review and changes have been made to the course contents by the respective boards and committees within the VTC. Course contents are also designed in a flexible way that in some cases, minor, and thus easily managed, additions to existing curricula become the best response to changes in skill requirement. For example, to meet the additional demand for training arising from the government's port and airport related projects of the century, a new in-service higher certificate course related to airport construction was planned and implemented within a very short lead time of six months. This was made possible by flexibly adding new course contents to an existing course.22

22 Interview with the Assistant Executive Director of VTC, op cit.


It is a constant challenge with in TEVT to maintain a teaching force which is skilled in the newer technologies being used in the industries and possesses pedagogical qualifications. The solution to this challenge is the arrangement of adequate overseas and local industrial attachments and programs to update staff's professional knowledge and to keep abreast of the latest technological advancements. Special arrangement has also been made with the Hong Kong Institute of Education for technical institute staff with no formal teacher qualification to attend in-service teacher education course.

Staff are not only encouraged to attend to changing technologies but also to innovations in the development and implementation of technical education. In recent years, delegations comprising management and teaching staff have paid overseas, including China, visits to exchange ideas on technical education.


To sustain Hong Kong's economic growth and to facilitate its industrial restructuring, it is essential to maintain a balanced supply of properly trained and educated manpower capable of meeting new challenges. To provide the best TEVT ground for Hong Kong's workforce the

'VTC needs to ensure that its courses continue to meet the needs of customers through a comprehensive quality review and audit system: that an effective team of teaching staff and instructors are employed to ensure that students and trainees gain maximum benefit from their programme of study or training, and that a flexible planning system exists to enable colleges and institutes to respond quickly to the changing needs of society.'23

23 Knight, H.R., Executive Director of VTC. 1996. Speech given at the conference on Vocational Training and Technical Education 2000: The Vocational Training Council Perspective. Hong Kong.

While it is strategic for VTC to continue to search for and develop appropriate measures to maintain and reinforce harmonisation between the supply and demand of technical manpower in Hong Kong, the situation could have been further improved if private enterprises, which are known for the lukewarm attitude towards providing in-house training to employees24, are motivated to assume more responsibility in staff training. Intra-industry workplace training provides the most effective means of equipping employees with the new skills demanded by technological and market changes. Therefore, alongside the planning and provision of public TEVT it is also important for the VTC to put on-board an incentive arrangement to induce private firms to organise training that satisfies their own needs.

24 Ng, S.H. 1994. The role of the government in human resources development: Retrospect and prospect. Leung, B.K.P. and Wong T.Y.C. (eds) 25 Years of Social and Economic Development in Hong Kong. University of Hong Kong.