The society needs to be made aware that technical training does not mean youths would be doing only manual and laborious tasks.
With innovation and skills being the currency of the new economy, vocational education being second best to an academic education or even “low class” is a thing of the past. Today, some governments are already devoting more resources in vocational education. One such example is China’s investment of a total HK$466 billion in 2016 – an average increment of 5.5 percent.
In Hong Kong, however, change is taking place at a much slower pace. This is attributed to the ever-present perception that competency-based training is of substandard in comparison to the pursuit of academic excellence. According to a Hong Kong think tank’s survey of over 2,000 parents and students, four in five respondents failed to acknowledge vocational education and training as a professional qualification. Therefore, students typically only turn to skills training as an alternative after failing to make the cut to be enrolled in academic institutions. However, by then students (age 17 to 19) are of a late age to be starting skills training, compared with other societies.
Unlike Hong Kong, countries like Switzerland provides less academically oriented students with the choice to enter vocational schools after completing lower secondary education – with most choosing to enroll at the age of 16. Similar act can be observed in Singapore, where about 65 percent of students pursue vocational training upon the completion of secondary education, typically at the age of 16. On the contrary, the Hong Kong education system does not allow for such pursuits even though some students at that age may already be clear of the path they wish to pursue.
Ray Chong Tak-ki, a graduate from the higher diploma in software engineering programme offered by the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Tsing Yi), a VTC member institution is an exemplary illustration that pursuing a vocational track does not mean giving up on university education.
Chong, the 21-year-old IT enthusiast only began the vocational track after completing his Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), and is now in his third year of computer science degree course at City University. While his higher diploma would be sufficient for him to secure a job, there is a great demand for software engineers in the city. Hence, Chong chose to pursue a university education to learn more about the principles and theories in the trade to complement his skills. He aims to work in software and mobile application development after obtaining his degree.
Educators have voiced their opinions on the need for government to devote more resources to this sector and implement policies that allow for the rebranding of vocation education to the public to lift deep-rooted impressions that many have. Currently, vocational schools face the issues of insufficient space and dated infrastructure, hindering youths like Chong to begin developing their skills early.
The society needs to be made aware that technical training does not mean youths would be doing only manual and laborious tasks. Heavy work is now done by machines, however skilled workers are needed to invent and control machines. Companies today will require individuals who possess creativity and strategic skills set, and they do not necessarily come from an academic background, but instead have vocational training and preferably some industry experience.
Vocational education provides students with the opportunity of skills development and teaches them skills that are useful in adapting to changing environments.