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How vocational education and training are grooming a generation of professionals in Hong Kong

South China Morning Post (online), 7 November 2017 - Carrie Yau says it’s important to change the mindsets of parents and educators who see vocational training as ‘blue-collar’ education. In fact, it plays a vital role in Hong Kong’s development, and more is now being done to increase the academic opportunities for students who choose this path.

Hong Kong’s Vocational Training Council provides quality vocational and professional education and training to nurture globally competitive individuals for the development of Hong Kong and the region. We offer vocational education and training from crafts to technician up to degree level every year to 250,000 young people and in-service workers, of whom 50,000 are full-time students. To further such education and training, we have a number of priority issues:

First, we need to change the mindset of parents and educators who wrongly perceive vocational training as “blue-collar” education for less-talented students with limited career prospects. To change this perception, we have rebranded technical and vocational education and training as “vocational and professional education and training”. We wish to hammer home the word “professional”.

We are grooming a generation of professionals conversant not only with trade skills but also soft skills (that is, people skills). They are critical thinkers, problem solvers and design thinkers. The council has devoted significant efforts to promoting vocational and professional education through publicity campaigns, school outreach activities, forums and seminars, targeting local and international educators, plus skills competitions and events.

Second is the issue of articulation and permeability in vocational and professional education and training. Currently, Hong Kong’s education system is similar to the Swiss and German models, which offer two routes – the traditional academic route and the vocational education route. Hong Kong provides a vertical progression route. It is not a single-track road but extends in multiple directions. If students choose the vocational route, they can also climb the higher education ladder. Switzerland is well known for is its effective, permeable dual-track system, but Hong Kong lacks a “vocational baccalaureate” like the Swiss system’s. We plan to soon launch a three-year vocational baccalaureate programme for senior secondary level students, enabling them to join a university of applied sciences, equivalent to a higher education institute, or traditional university.

Third, a look at Hong Kong’s dual-track vocational education is in order. Making reference to the international best practices of Swiss and German models, we introduced the Earn & Learn Scheme in 2014 for secondary school leavers, with support from government and industry, which provides an opportunity to follow a well-defined path for higher qualifications. By integrating structured classroom learning with on-the-job training, young people can put learning into practice in a work setting. Following positive feedback, the scheme has been extended to cover 10 industries and trades. We plan to further develop the dual-track model to degree level, ultimately achieving dual-track learning for all.

Fourth, use of new technology makes learning more fun. We are continuing to build new facilities to enhance teaching and learning. Last year we established STEM Education Centres on different campuses to create simulated learning contexts and help students work together on projects, integrating modern technology with innovative ideas. As technology advances, the working world increasingly demands cross-disciplinary, collaborative and problem-solving skills for creative solutions. To meet evolving talent needs, we are driving new interdisciplinary programmes and collaborative projects.

Fifth, we are encouraging interdisciplinary initiatives. For instance, our students took part in the 2017 World Solar Challenge in Australia in October, with SOPHIE VI, a solar-powered electric vehicle initially developed by a group of our engineering students and teachers. Over the years, the students have refined and upgraded the car’s functions, efficacy and efficiency. With an enhanced design by graduates from the Hong Kong Design Institute, we have brought together cross-disciplinary perspectives and expertise in engineering and design. SOPHIE VI is much lighter than previous editions and conserves more electricity. We finished fourth in the competition after crossing 3,000km of desert.

The last point relates to why we sent students to the WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 competition in 20 trades, and why two took part in the first WorldSkills International Youth Forum in Abu Dhabi. We do this to maximise young people’s international exposure and prepare them for a globalised world. We emphasise nurturing intercultural networking skills and give students opportunities to study abroad and participate in exchange programmes. Through our global partner network, about 8,000 Vocational Training Council students take part in international programmes like study tours, exchange programmes, overseas industry attachments and more, each year.

A successful vocational and professional education and training system can facilitate growth and prosperity. And I am sure this sector will grow, nurturing even more competent professionals.

Carrie Yau is executive director of the Vocational Training Council in Hong Kong


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