The Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) has set a new direction for the Workplace English Campaign in its continuing effort to raise the English standard of the local workforce.
In future, the Campaign will direct more attention to furthering the adoption of the Hong Kong Workplace English Benchmarks by local employers in staff recruitment, promotion and training.
The Chairman of SCOLAR Mr Michael Tien said today (13 January) that the decision was made after a recent review of the Campaign.
"Over the past four years, we have succeeded in raising the awareness of the importance of better English in the workplace among the general public," he said.
Another important achievement of the Campaign is the development of a set of Hong Kong Workplace English Benchmarks for six job types, namely low-proficiency job types, front-line services personnel, clerks, receptionist/telephone operators, secretaries and executive/associate professionals.
"The Hong Kong Workplace English Benchmarks spell out the standards of English writing and speaking that employees of each job types should attain. They provide very useful reference both for working adults to assess their own needs for English training and for employers to develop their English language requirements for recruitment and promotion," said Mr Tien.
"However, public understanding about the benchmarks and their value for local employers and employees still needs to be heightened. We have, therefore, decided to step up our efforts in promoting the benchmarks to the general public in the coming years."
"Our target in 2004 is to get more local employers to adopt the benchmarks as reference in setting their own English language requirements for recruitment and promotion. We believe such action on the part of employers will encourage more working adults to pursue English training and reach the benchmarks relevant to their job types," Mr Tien added.
The Funding Scheme for Workplace English Training, set up with an allocation of $50 million from the Language Fund, was also part of the recent review of the Workplace English Campaign by SCOLAR.
The Scheme provides subsidies for employees to attend English training courses and attain the benchmarks for their job types through taking specified international business English tests. As at the end of December 2003, more than 15 500 applicants have already attained the relevant benchmarks and received their training grants from the Scheme, involving a total disbursement of $25.7 million. Another $12.32 million has been earmarked for about 5 400 applications.
"We are glad to note that besides our Funding Scheme, the $5 billion Continuing Education Fund launched by the Government in June 2002 is also providing subsidies for English training, among other work-related skills, for adults aged 18 to 60. As the Fund becomes better known among the general public and the number of its reimbursable courses increases, more and more people are applying to the Fund for grants to undertake English training to meet their personal and professional needs," said Mr Tien.
"In view of this recent development, SCOLAR has made a conscious decision to channel resources to supporting the provision of in-house English training commissioned by employers for their employees. Participants in such training are currently not eligible to apply to the Continuing Education Fund for subsidies."
The Funding Scheme for Workplace English Training will stop receiving applications made by individual employees or by companies on behalf of their employees for grants to attend English training courses offered in the market from 1 January 2005 or until all the remaining funds have been earmarked for applications, whichever is earlier.
The year-long notice period serves to allow course providers and the public ample time to prepare for the change.
Mr Tien stressed that changes to the Funding Scheme for Workplace English Training would not deprive working adults of their chance to obtain subsidies for English training as they will continue to have access to a maximum subsidy of $10,000 from the Continuing Education Fund.
For course providers, he said they could make necessary adjustments to their courses which could then be included in the reimbursable course list of the Continuing Education Fund.
The Funding Scheme for Workplace English Training will, nevertheless, go on to accept applications from companies that wish to commission course providers to organise in-house English training courses for their employees in 2005 and after, subject to the availability of funds allocated to the Scheme and any future review by SCOLAR.