The Steering Committee on the Workplace English Campaign has established English benchmark standards for four job types – secretary, clerk, frontline service personnel and receptionist/telephone operator, based on the results of a pilot test conducted in Hong Kong last December.
About 2 000 employees took part in the pilot test and attended speaking and writing tests run by four independent international examination bodies, namely, London Chamber of Commerce & Industry Examining Board (LCCIEB), Pitman Qualifications, Test of English for International Communications (TOEIC) and University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate (UCLES).
The sample covered a wide spectrum of industry sectors including banking, retail, hotels, trading and information technology.
The Steering Committee then compiled the results, on the basis of which English-language benchmarks for the four jobs types were set. A benchmark range has been identified for each job type, with the lower end of the range as the minimum benchmark and the upper end as the higher benchmark.
For each job type, there are separate benchmarks for the two modes of English communication, i.e. speaking and writing, to reflect the different requirements for spoken and written English.
Mr Michael Tien, Chairman of the Steering Committee hopes that the benchmarks would serve as an effective tool to enhance the English competency of the Hong Kong workforce.
"This is the first time ever we set benchmark standards for workplace English in Hong Kong," said Mr Tien.
"We started with the four job types as their work requires a certain level of English communication skills, and a higher English proficiency level would certainly provide them with better career opportunities. These groups of employees account for about one-third of our working population," he added.
Based on the benchmarks of the four job types, a minimum benchmark level has also been identified for other job types, which normally require a higher proficiency level of English. Examples of such jobs include executives, administrators and associate professionals such as computer operators, engineering technicians, nurses and law clerks.
"We believe the minimum benchmark serves as a good starting point upon which executives and associate professionals could enhance their English proficiency," Mr Tien noted.
"I would like to call on the business sector to adopt these benchmarks as a reference for recruitment and staff development. Employers should also encourage and subsidise their employees to take necessary language training to achieve the benchmark standard.
"With the benchmarks established, employees now have a clear, objective understanding of their employers' expectation of their English standard. They can also refer to the benchmarks as a self-improvement target for career growth.
"This is an ongoing process and requires sustained efforts from the business sector and the working population at large. When people get to know their required standard in their profession, they would continue to upgrade their language proficiency to enhance their competence.
"I believe this exercise will help raise the English standards of our workforce in the longer run."
The Hong Kong Workplace English Benchmarks took reference from internationally-recognised tests.
Further information is available on the Campaign's website at http://www.english.gov.hk.