Embracing and Strengthening Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPET) in Hong Kong
Dr. Michael Wang, Deputy Executive Director, Vocational Training Council
AI, automation and digitalisation have been reshaping the future world of work and the change has accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. VPET providers and the community must embrace the “new normal” to facilitate the transformation of the workforce to foster sustainable development of industries and the economy for the future.
In Hong Kong, VPET has become an essential component in the local education system, offering programmes from diploma, higher diploma to degree levels. A recent research study released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC)  indicates that VPET providers have trained more than 900,000 graduates for a wide range of industries, contributing to about 24% of the total workforce in Hong Kong since the 1980s. The study also points out that VPET graduates received about 30% to 100% more salary than high school graduates, and that VPET attributes to the significant enhancement in employability and the decline in youth unemployment rates from 31% to 10% in Hong Kong for those aged 15 to 19 over the last 20 years. In fact, recent graduate employment surveys conducted by the Vocational Training Council (VTC)  in Hong Kong indicate that VTC Higher Diploma graduates continuously enjoy around 90% employment rate on average in the past three years, which is a solid testament to the importance of VPET to the society.
However, contrary to these encouraging figures, the benefits and contributions of VPET in Hong Kong have yet to be recognised and valued as widely as the traditional academic pathway. For Hong Kong to fully embrace and strengthen the development and recognition of VPET, here are a few areas for us to consider.
Enhance and extend dual-track VPET programmes
Germany and Sweden are among some of the countries with mature and highly recognised VPET systems in place. Their renowned dual-track VPET system, which attaches great importance to industry participation, is a significant factor for their success and is very effective in nurturing work-ready and hands-on talents for local enterprises, in turn ensuring that the training provided matches the demand of local industries. Similar to the VTC’s Earn & Learn Scheme, the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Scheme launched by the Singapore Government in earlier years has developed into Work-Study Programmes, covering skill-related programmes of universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education, ensuring better and seamless integration with enterprises.
Looking back at Hong Kong, the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi), a member of the VTC, has also started to offer Earn and Learn Degree Programmes after many years of success of VTC’s Earn & Learn Scheme at the diploma and higher diploma level. However, how to further enhance and extend the dual-track programmes to a wider range of industries, education levels and qualifications, for example, to introduce a Meister qualification similar to that of Germany, will be a matter worth pondering.
Develop and promote a lifelong learning culture
Industry 4.0, automation and AI have created abundant opportunities for industries. Many jobs are disappearing but new jobs are emerging. Lifelong learning has become essential in everyone’s working life. I was an educator in Singapore when its SkillsFuture Scheme was launched in 2016 and thus was actively engaged in this nationwide promotion of skills for its enterprises and citizens. A study by the Singapore Government  revealed that the skills training participation rate of its labour force has reached 49% in 2020, indicating a significant increase as compared with the 35% in 2015.
In Hong Kong, the Government has also rolled out a number of measures to encourage lifelong learning, one of which is the Continuing Education Fund. Still, to maintain the competitive edge of Hong Kong and its workforce, more efforts and resources would have to be put into the promotion of the lifelong learning culture and the enhancement of current funding schemes.
Enhance international and regional recognition of VPET
VPET qualifications in Hong Kong have achieved international recognition with local VPET providers’ commitment to enhancing their status in the international and regional arenas through active organisation and participation in international VPET events, competitions and other valuable exchanges. Nonetheless, the international status of Hong Kong’s VPET can be further enhanced by tapping on the new opportunities of collaboration with other cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA). For example, establishing mutual recognition of VPET qualifications and organising more exchange programmes with local, GBA, Mainland China and overseas institutions and professional bodies are some areas that VPET providers in Hong Kong could consider, which would attract global talents and build a diversified talent pool for Hong Kong.
Establish publicly funded Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS)
At this moment, all VPET degree offering institutions, including THEi of VTC, are self-financed. To bring local VPET qualifications in parity with conventional academic qualifications, Hong Kong needs to take reference from Sweden, Germany and Finland to set up publicly funded UAS to provide VPET students with the option of career-oriented applied degree programmes. The establishment of publicly funded UAS not only formalises and positions applied degree at higher education level, but also opens up VPET articulation pathways for our students.
Solicit support from the Government
Government’s policy and financial support for VPET are critical to its success. As an educator with over 20 years of experience in Singapore, I have witnessed the change of public perception and recognition in society towards VPET and skills with support from the Government. Since 2013, Singapore Prime Minister delivers his National Day Rally speech in the Institute of Technical Education, uplifting the status of VPET in Singapore immensely. The establishment of SkillsFuture Singapore in 2016 further brought forward the national skill movement and promoted the value of lifelong learning, helping to strengthen and improve the quality of the local education and training system. In Mainland China, the first National Vocational Education Conference held in April 2021 in Beijing has indicated the Government’s determination on advancing and promoting the VPET education system and the cultivation of skilled talents nationally. There is no doubt that support from the Government is of paramount importance to the development of VPET in a society.
VPET has nurtured numerous talented entrepreneurs, master chefs, engineers, fashion designers and innovators in Hong Kong. With its well-established reputation among industries and employers in Hong Kong, as well as the international recognition of our current VPET system and qualifications, I am confident that more from the younger generations will pursue education pathways in VPET with the concerted and continuous efforts made by the Government, VPET providers and industries in Hong Kong, and together, they will lead Hong Kong through the transformation and to an even brighter future.
 PricewaterhouseCoopers. (2021). Vocational and Professional Education and Training – Shaping the Future of Work: Review and Outlook. https://www.pwchk.com/en/government/vocational-professional-education-training-jun2021.pdf
 Vocational Training Council. (2021). Overview of Higher Diploma Programmes. VTC Admissions. https://www.vtc.edu.hk/admission/en/s6/higher-diploma/overview-of-higher-diploma-programmes/
 Ministry of Manpower, Singapore. (2020). Labour Force in Singapore – Impact of COVID-19 on the Labour Market. https://stats.mom.gov.sg/iMAS_PdfLibrary/mrsd_2020LabourfForce.pdf