Applications will be invited from 15 March for a funding scheme under the Workplace English Campaign for which $50 million has been set aside from the Language Fund.
The Chairman of the Steering Committee on the Workplace English Campaign, Mr Michael Tien, revealed details of the funding scheme today (28 February) at the launching ceremony of the year-long Workplace English Campaign at the Government House.
The Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, was the Guest of Honour at the launching ceremony which was attended by representatives from corporate supporters, international chambers of commerce, trade associations and labour unions.
"The Funding Scheme is open to all non-civil-servant employees and applications can be submitted by individual employees as well as by companies on behalf of their employees. Applications will be processed on a first-come-first-served basis and may be submitted by post or in person from 15 March to 15 May," Mr Tien said.
Application forms can be obtained at major post offices and district offices from 15 March onwards. The form can also be downloaded from the website of the Workplace English Campaign at http://www.english.gov.hk.
Grants will meet 50% of employees' training costs and examination fees, up to a maximum value of $1,500 per employee, and will be given to applicants in the form of reimbursement after they have completed a training course and attained the relevant benchmark levels in international tests.
"Of the total $50 million funds, $10 million has been earmarked for the development of English training programmes which target employees of a specific trade or profession, and which address a specific training need not served by other courses in the market," Mr Tien noted.
"Employers' associations, trade and industry organisations and professional bodies are eligible to apply."
Mr Tien also reiterated the importance of the benchmarks, which established clear and objective standards of English required of employees in different occupations.
"I strongly believe benchmarking is an effective step towards enhancing the competency of our workforce. And I am glad a large number of businesses share this belief," he said.
Since the announcement of the Hong Kong Workplace English Benchmarks on 1 February, some 120 business firms and organisations have pledged to adopt the benchmarks and committed to enabling their employees to achieve the minimum benchmark standards within three years.
These corporate supporters include large, medium and small enterprises from a wide range of industry sectors such as banking and finance, insurance, retail, food and beverage, property, utilities, trading, travel and transport, hotel and tourism, telecommunications and information technology.
The Hong Kong Workplace English Benchmarks take reference from internationally-recognised tests and are based on the results of a series of pilot workplace English tests conducted by four independent testing bodies between December 1999 and January 2000.
"With the launching of the Campaign and the series of publicity programmes designed to drum up business support, we expect to see more and more businesses supporting the workplace English benchmarks in the coming months," Mr Tien said.
Also at the launching ceremony, the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Mr Joseph W. P. Wong, said that he expected around 30 000 employees to benefit from the direct funding scheme.
"With the funding scheme as an incentive, I hope that from now on, more and more employers will encourage and subsidise their employees to take the necessary language training to achieve the benchmark standards," said Mr Wong.
"The benchmarks do not serve the interests of employers only. Better English standards will open doors to more and better job opportunities for our employees, and widely recognised benchmarks will act as milestones for career advancement," he added.
Apart from the funding scheme, Mr Tien also revealed a full line-up of publicity activities associated with the Campaign. They include the "One Minute's English" programme running on television and radio stations, a 10-episode programme series on workplace English produced by TVB, a Commercial Radio programme which will have its hosts travelling around Hong Kong to find the best English-speaking taxi-drivers in town. A new series of Announcement in the Public Interest is also being produced for broadcast on television.
Details of the Workplace English Campaign and its core components, namely, benchmarking, the Funding Scheme, the Business and Schools Partnership Programme and the publicity programme, are available on the Campaign's website at http://www.english.gov.hk.