The end of secondary school might still be a few years away for you, or the end might already be in sight – but either way, Hong Kong is a city that places great importance on the question, “What are you going to do next?” Whether it’s an idle discussion with your friends, a nervous chat with a teacher after class, or an uncomfortable conversation at the dinner table with all your family looking on, it can be pretty nerve-racking deciding what’s next after school.
Students are under a lot of pressure to get into a university – any university! – as high levels of academic achievement are often associated with “success”. But here’s the thing: university isn’t necessarily right for everyone. There are plenty of jobs in the workforce that require vocational skills rather than an academic degree, and they’re every bit as enriching, rewarding, and respectable as any other job.
The Vocational Training Council (VTC) provides courses in aircraft maintenance, fitness and sports studies, beauty care, fashion textile design and merchandising, hospitality, retail, event management, and much more.
But VTC isn’t the only option.
The Construction Industry Council (CIC) also teaches a range of practical skills. And given the rate at which new buildings are appearing in Hong Kong, and the range of expertise required for their completion, it’s safe to stay this is one industry that won’t go out of business any time soon.
Suen Yin-pan, 21, has been studying a basic course in woodwork at CIC since September 2015.
“Construction offers a fine income, and I’ve always been interested in building things, so it seemed like a good path,” Suen explains. “People may think of construction as dirty or not very respectable work, but let’s face it, if everyone got high scores and got into university, it wouldn’t mean everyone would find jobs when they graduate. And, if we all wanted to be doctors or lawyers, then who would do the other jobs? We can’t have a world of just doctors and lawyers.”
Last Friday, Suen, along with his classmates, attended a woodturning workshop jointly organised by CIC and the Consulate General of Ireland, which flew in three specialists from the European country to showcase their traditional crafts to the Hong Kong students.
Joe Laird, a seventh generation woodturner who conducted the workshop and will be part of this month’s Hong Kong and Macau Irish Festival, was very impressed by the CIC students.
“I can’t believe how attentive [the students] are, and how enthusiastic. They have great attention to detail, which I admire,” says Laird.
One student who shares the veteran craftsman’s enthusiasm is 18-year-old Theo Lam Wo-man.
“It was magical to see a piece of art emerge before our eyes,” he says of Laird’s woodturning workshop, “and it was a great learning experience, finding out about tools and skills we’ve never seen before.”
Theo said he graduated from Kwun Tong Maryknoll College and applied straight to the CIC, and has been studying there since September 2016.
However, he admits his parents weren’t thrilled at first that he’d decided to make a career out of construction.
“At the beginning, they didn’t understand,” he says. “[They said that] construction is physically tough work and you can’t earn a good income. [After many discussions] they realised that’s not true, that I can build a career out of this and that’s what I enjoy. They are very supportive now.”
Lam says many of his secondary school friends are at university now, and they are under constant pressure to study and get
“Studying may offer you a chance at a more comfortable lifestyle, but your life and your choices are your own,” Lam adds, keen to reach out to younger students who are facing tremendous academic pressure. “Pick something you’re interested in, and be ready to work hard at it. You can write your success story anywhere.”