Hong Kong : Many Hongkongers consider vocational education and training an inferior course of study as four out of five respondents do not recognize it as a professional qualification for students, a policy think tank has found.
The study commissioned by the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre cited the finding as indicative of a serious manpower mismatch problem in the city. It polled 2,493 parents and students from June to December last year.
“Many in society believe that going to a university is the only way out, but this way of thinking is not right,” think tank vice-chairman Lau Ming-wai said. “Often times it’s the parents that become a stumbling block. That generation of Hongkongers was brought up in a society where a university degree guaranteed a prosperous future.”
Some 20 per cent of polled students also thought vocational education was a backup plan for those who did not do well on university entrance exams.
Lau said the high proportion of university graduates did not match the needs of the labour market, with a shortage seen in certain industries that often do not require university degrees, such as the construction industry.
“Not all jobs in Hong Kong require a bachelor’s degree, but a lot say they need it,” he added. “Employers are flooded with university degree graduate applications. Therefore, by default, employers come to expect that, but whether employers need those skills or knowledge that a university gave them is a separate question.”
Citing census statistics, the think tank said 45 per cent of tertiary education graduates worked in administrative or assistant level jobs last year, compared with only 20 per cent in 2006.
The issue of how Hong Kong’s young minds struggled to cope in a city that fosters an exam-oriented culture and academic success has long been in the spotlight.
The centre’s researchers urged local vocational institutions, employers and the government to work hand in hand to promote vocational education to combat the traditional mindset.
Foundation researcher Agnes Ching Yin-fong said pupils should have an opportunity to participate in “job taster programmes” from as early as Form Three.
Hong Kong and Macau graduates from mainland Chinese universities struggle to stay and find jobs
“The problem is that many students do not have the opportunity to explore their interests and skills at an early stage,” she explained. “The earlier they know about different career options, the more informed they’ll be in choosing the right subjects in school.”
Ching called on schools to work with companies to offer internships, apprenticeships and practical training courses for secondary school pupils so they might gain real work experience if they chose not to enter university.
Hong Kong officials had a role to play in rebranding the image of certain traditional jobs, such as working as a locksmith or plumber, to help change perceptions in the city, Lau argued.
“Just five years ago, playing video games was considered not constructive,” he said. “Now we have a new industry called e-sports. Perceptions do change when there are concerted, sustained efforts.”
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