The recent economic downturn has dealt a severe blow to many employees. However, for Shiu Yin-ming and Poon Man-kit, the crisis has brought them skill-upgrading opportunities.
Miss Shiu has over 30 years’ experience in the retail industry. Her last job was a salesperson at a lighting store. Struck by the competition with online stores and a series of protests, the shop closed in October last year and left her unemployed.
“I have got no choice. Many people in Hong Kong have mortgage burdens. It is the most worrying part. And it is frightening to see my account balance drop,” she said.
Miss Shiu spent several months trying to get a job but failed.
“Of course I was frustrated. Perhaps the employers think that young people are more hard-working. It is difficult for middle-aged people like me to get a job. It hurt my confidence and I hesitated to keep going."
Seeing the demand in the healthcare industry, Miss Shiu decided to swap careers. She joined the Love Upgrading Special Scheme and enrolled in the Foundation Certificate in Care-related Support Worker Training.
The course covered basic pathology and healthcare skills. It also arranged recruitment from the Hospital Authority in class. Miss Shiu said the special course helped her to find a job and she will soon work at a nursing home.
“It is like an admission ticket. During an interview at a nursing home, the interviewer asked how I would change a nappy for an elderly person. I answered what I had learnt from the course. Moreover, as I have not participated in an interview after so many years of work, the interview skills that I have learnt from the course have geared me up,” she said.
Young newcomers to the job market are also affected by the economic downturn.
Mr Poon has been engaged in casual work in the catering industry. The 19-year-old said there used to be plenty of casual job opportunities on career websites, but that is no longer the case. He has been underemployed in recent months and feels his family just see him as someone who is not in education, employment, or training.
“The full-time waiters have not got much work to do, and each of them is assigned to be responsible for a few positions. So, the restaurant does not need extra casual manpower. My relatives look down on me like I am a neet,” he said.
Mr Poon has enrolled in the Foundation Certificate in Barista Training to gain experience in different positions in the industry.
"Many coffee shops and hotels need people to make latte art. I think the course will help me get a job more easily. I plan to further enroll in other courses relating to pastry-making," he added.
The Love Upgrading Special Scheme, launched in last October, provides free training to employees affected by the recent economic downturn to upgrade their skills. The courses are conducted in full-time or part-time mode and offer special allowances.
According to the Employees Retraining Board, as of the end of March, more than 12,200 people have applied for the scheme. About one-third of them are aged between 50 to 59.
The applicants mainly come from the catering, retail, social and personal services industries.
The most popular course is the Foundation Certificate in Care-related Support Worker Training, followed by courses related to baker and pastry cook, barista and security training.
Employees Retraining Board Executive Director Byron Ng said the 66 courses under the scheme were specially selected.
“We want to help those employees in the hard-hit industries like tourism, catering, retail, hotel, construction, etc. Also, we want to provide courses in industries which demand heavy labour during this period, such as healthcare and innovative technology.”
The scheme does not impose any restrictions on the trainees’ industry and educational attainment.
“We hope to encourage all unemployed or underemployed employees, including those who are highly educated, and take these chances to upgrade their own skills so they can re-enter the market smoothly,” Mr Ng said.
He added that those who have completed a full-time vocational skills course will get a follow-up service that includes three months of employment.
The second phase of the scheme will be launched in July, and the monthly maximum allowance is expected to increase from $4,000 to $5,800.