Adult Education. Retraining Programme for Older People

What is the topic of my research?

Adult Education: How’s NGO retraining programme assist “re-trainees” who are over 40 years old with unemployed and lower education in returning to the workplace successfully??

Why have I chosen this topic?

Today we are living in an era of globalisation and liberalisation. The key characteristic of the globalisation era is a greater emphasis on quality and ‘intense competition. Technology has emerged as the key driver in implementing a wide range of changes. This calls for regular improvement in skills, training and development. Sometimes, the existing employees are fortunate enough to receive such training from their own companies, but there are a number of companies, which try to seek fresh graduates from the universities, instead of investing in the training and developmental activities of their existing workforce.

But this results in undue hardships to the existing employees, who happen to be over-age by the time and feel out of place, amongst the youth. This calls for a policy and plans on the part of the government and other support organisations. Moses (2003) states that there are at least three key advantages even for the companies going in for retraining their existing workforce. These advantages are;

  • First, such support from the employer helps in creating higher levels of employee loyalty.
  • Second, the familiarity of the existing workforce, with the working system and culture of the company helps in better target management
  • Third, existing employees are already settled within the proximity of the company, which minimises the usage of resources for relocation etc.

Notwithstanding such advantages, companies often try to analyse the situation from the angle of immediate tangible benefits, disregarding the larger benefits of the employees and a range of intangible benefits. Such actions often lead to confrontation with employees unions and other representative bodies. Owing to such differences, reemployment training also cropped up as a key labour agenda in Hong Kong as well. Displacement of a large number of employees on account of business restructuring, technological advancements, cost-cutting exercises etc led to such a situation in Hong Kong (Zanko and Ngui, 2003).

For example, the northward transfer of industries in the early 1990s is cited as a reason leading to the demands of retraining from trade unions in the country. This led to the formation of the Employees Retraining Board in 1992. The main responsibility of this statutory body is to provide retraining to local workers in order to help them in adjusting to the changing working environment. The issue has acquired different proportions at different points of time, depending upon the prevailing conditions. During this period experts have also questioned the usefulness of ERB. Wong (1998), for example, states that “The situation of ‘jobs without workers, workers without jobs’’ appears to be sustained even after the ERP is introduced. The total number of unemployed reached 108,000, representing 3.6 per cent of Hong Kong’s total workforce”.

This was stated to be the highest rate of unemployment during the last decade. Roan et al. (2002) suggest that as a result of restructuring and job losses, on the surface the employees appear to be the worst sufferers, but in effect, the organisation and the survivors within the organisation also suffer on account of this upheaval. This further provides credence to the idea of strengthening the retraining board. The rapid pace with which technology is developing makes the topic all the more relevant. IT has emerged as the leader in carrying out the changes, and providing such training to people over 40 years will certainly help them to be more useful citizens. Moreover, I have opted for this topic because;

  • It is professionally relevant to my current area of work. I am working with an NGO, which is helping unemployed adults in returning to the workplace. I am one of the trainers supporting this retraining.
  • This study might come out with some suggestions useful for adult education and training, which in the long run will help the industry in finding a pool of trained workforce.
  • This will also help me in understanding the needs of adult unemployed people.
  • Being part of the NGO and involved in retraining activity, this study will certainly help me in widening my knowledge base and improving my own working areas.
  • In addition, this study will also help me in evaluating the effectiveness of the training being imparted by some government institutions and NGOs.
  • It is worthwhile here to mention that as per the census statistics of Hong Kong1, the biggest percentage of the population belongs to the category of 40-49 years. In fact, this trend has been consistently on display for the last more than 7 years. This segment, therefore, certainly deserves more attention in terms of their employability and compatibility with the present scenario.

Are my reasons good enough?

The reasons for undertaking this study are good enough because;

  1. The topic is contemporary in nature, as it tries to analyse the day’s advancements and tries to see through the compatibility scenario.
  2. Human Resource Management is one of the key areas of management which eventually decides the success or failure of the organisation in achieving the desired objectives. Employees’ retraining is now gaining more acceptance amongst the entrepreneurs’ in Hong Kong, which further requires to be analysed.
  3. The age group 40+ forms the biggest segment of Hong Kong’s population. Therefore this segment requires adequate attention for its requirements.
  4. Having experience in adult education and retraining, I certainly feel more comfortable in analysing the situation and carrying the task ahead.

Some limitations in carrying out the study might result in not making it an elaborative and comprehensive study. For example, considering the nature of the subject of the dissertation, more time and resources would be involved especially in determining the sample size and in data collection. At times, the sample respondents might be hostile in responding to the questionnaires owing to reasons ranging from an inherent fear of the employer to reservations about such a study. Efforts will of course be made to take the respondents and resource persons in full confidence, by clearly defining to them the exact scope of this study.

What are my research questions?

Broadly speaking the research questions will include;

  1. What is the need for the retraining programmes and who are the direct beneficiaries of such programmes?
  2. What are the driving forces, which necessitate the provisioning of retraining programmes?
  3. What are the difficulties being faced by people aged over 40 years?
  4. What is the attitude of general people in Hong Kong about carrying out such programmes for the ‘elderly’?
  5. Discuss the meaning of “returning workplace”? What is the meaning of “successful retraining” (e.g. if the re-trainees can return to the workplace for more than 3 months)? What are the factors of success or unsuccessful in returning to the workplace?
  6. What is the role of the government and industry in facilitating the retraining programmes?

Can I justify the research questions?

The main intention of the study is to develop a better understanding of the retraining programmes and the concepts of Human Resources Management in general and how the established theories and principles are applied to a segment of the ageing and experience population of HK. Citing earlier research on the subject, Jansen et al (2001) state, “Most authors stress that it is important to evaluate personnel practices with respect to such effectiveness criteria as the success, and even the survival, of the organizations”.

Therefore, the research questions appear in tune with this notion. In view of the economic progress of the country, increase in the country’s population, and increase in the average lifespan of an individual, it becomes all the more necessary to work towards gainful employment of the individual. This requires a study into different aspects of adult education and training for which the above-mentioned questions will certainly provide useful insight.

How can I do this?

Research approaches and methods radically influence research content and, consequently, the policies designed in response to that content. Research philosophy is a belief about the way in which data about a phenomenon should be gathered, analyzed and used. Some of the important approaches for carrying out the task are;

Deductive reasoning

This approach works from the more general to the more specific subjects. Sometimes this is informally called a “top-down” approach. In such an approach we take up the ‘theory’ and then try to apply it to the hypotheses that we intend to test. Gradually we narrow it down to the testing of data and observations for their applicability to the theory/ theories to arrive at confirmation of its applicability or not.

Inductive approach

This method on the other hand begins with collecting data, specific observations, which then lead to broader generalization and theories. Such an approach is called as “bottom-up” approach. The patterns thus detected are formulated into tentative hypotheses and we can therefore arrive at some general conclusion about our subject.


Such an approach depends more on theoretical considerations. In this approach, comparisons are made between the theoretical principles and the existing circumstances and the resultant qualitative difference is marked out.


This approach relies more on data and statistics. In this case, statistical data is gathered from a number of relevant sources, which is then compared with the theories and principles.

However, in this study, an effort would be made to have a balanced mix of these approaches, without overly relying on any single approach.

Where will I do the research?

Before carrying out the study, an effort would be made to segment different target groups for gathering information and data. For example;

  • In order to gather the age profile and population statistics, the census details will be analysed
  • A questionnaire will also be prepared in order to seek feedback from the concerned persons, groups and government departments. Telephonic interviews with some of the existing and past graduates will also help in understanding the mindset and requirements of the group.
  • The questionnaire will also be taken up in the class involving 40+ age group people.

Have I negotiated access? How?

Indeed having the access rights to the concerned departments, people and database are of paramount importance in realising fullest potential of the study. I will be getting the fullest cooperation and support from my current workplace both in terms of data and actual feedback from the concerned age group people.

When will I do the research?

Starting from Oct 08.

Is my timetable realistic?

6 months, should be good enough. If required I will prepare a Gantt chart as well to meet the timeline and see the smooth progress of the research study.

What methods will I use to investigate the research questions?


No study can be termed complete without any reference to the theoretical aspects. This also helps in setting a benchmark for the study and findings. In this part, an effort will be made to study the path taken by the economy in general and technology, in particular, to arrive at this position and how it has impacted the effectiveness in providing services to the consumer while necessitating an improvement in skills required for the workforce.

In addition, using reliable secondary sources of data would yield the required information to make comparisons and further investigate the trend. Moreover, the use of secondary research allows for the analysis of a broad range of topics that can be thoroughly investigated and has proven to be credible. The research used in this discussion will make use of several sources including books, government documents, reputed websites and scholarly journals.


This approach doesn’t rely too much on historical data and helps in gathering contemporary data instead. The steps for carrying the study on this particular topic involves;

  • The transition of the world from closed economies to a globalised economy
  • How Hong Kong has progressed in this transition period
  • Gather data about the people, having attained the age of 40 years and who are not gainfully employed
  • Put together all the elements and analyze the relevant data. In the process, we’ll also refer to the analysis done by some of the leading world bodies, institutions and organizations.
  • Figure out a sample size to administer the questionnaire
  • Prepare a questionnaire for the sample population as well as for some of the leading figures in the industry/ government

How can I justify these methods?

Inevitably, any discussion of the methodology involves a debate over the pros and cons of quantitative analysis versus qualitative analysis. Both types of analysis require data and facts and figures, which can be gathered either through primary sources or secondary sources. Since the nature of this study involves a broader analysis, therefore we’ll have to take the help of secondary sources in good measure, for gathering most of the information. Some of the primary sources will be the interviews and opinions that we seek to solicit from the affected age group people and training providing organisations or resource persons.

What are the ethical considerations? How will I address these? Does the study need ethical approval?

This study requires the participation of human subjects from different organisations. Therefore, the key ethical consideration is to seek the consent and confidentiality of all those helping out or participating in carrying out the study. This study will therefore communicate its aim and purpose to the participants prior to taking inputs from them. By providing the relevant information, they will be made aware of the study and its objectives prior to completing the questionnaire or sharing any information. Acquiring informed consent is vital to a researcher. Such a consent document serves as protection both for participants and for the researcher/s involved.

Is there anything I need to rethink?

I have given due considerations to almost all aspects of the study and as of now don’t feel the need to re-calibrate my study plan. However, depending upon the time taken by the participants in returning the filled in questionnaires some minor adjustments might be required to be made to the timetable in future. In addition depending upon the consistency or uniqueness of the data being gathered, broadening of the scope might also be possible in due course.

Do I need to revise the research questions? Are they clear? Are they researchable?

Before finalising the research questions I did think about a number of other topics and areas, and after weighing the pros and cons together with my strengths and weakness, zeroed in on this topic and related questions. Since I have just started off the research study and related activities, I don’t think it will be a better idea to revise it so soon. Therefore, I am reasonably confident that, the research questions are quite clear and researchable. The research questions are quite understandable and try to seek answers to certain questions, which form the basis for research.

Where have I got to in my research?

  • Started working out on my Scope and context
  • defining my focus areas
  • starting my planning
  • got some important guidance and advice from professionals, which is bound to prove helpful in the long run.

What is my first/next step?

Starting literature review and preparing the questionnaire. Forming a comprehensive questionnaire is key to carrying out research. This questionnaire will be in two main parts.

  • Part A of the questionnaire will contain the demographic characteristics of the respondents and this will serve as the profile of the respondents. This will include their gender, age, employment, and affiliations profile.
  • Part B will determine the behaviour and attitudes of the respondents as to how they perceive the utility of retraining programmes and adult education in the employability and satisfaction of the worker/s.

What help do I need?

  • My Organization: It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that my organisation will form the backbone of the study, because I will be making use of the expertise of fellow teachers and other resources from the organisation.
  • My Students: My students will be the participants in my study as they will provide me with important information about what they perceive to be effective retraining activities and how they can be made more effective.
  • My Supervisor: I certainly look forward to my supervisor as a guide and mentor in this entire process. I will be in regular touch with my supervisor during the study period so that if required I can take some corrective steps as well to make the study more lively and effective.


Jansen, Paul G.W.; Mandy E.G. van der Velde and Inge A. Telting (2001). ‘The effectiveness of human resource practices on advancing men’s and women’s ranks’. Journal of Management Development, Vol. 20 No. 4.

Moses, Jeffrey (2003). ‘Retraining Employees’. NFIB-The Voice of Small Business. Web.

Roan, A., Lafferty, G., Loudoun, R. (2002), ‘Survivors and Victims: a case study of organizational restructuring in the public health sector’, New Zealand Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 27 No.2.

Wong May M.L. (1998). ‘An evaluation on the employees’ retraining programmes in Hong Kong’. Employee Relations, Vol. 20 No. 4. MCB University Press.

Zanko, Michael and Ngui, Matt (2003). The Handbook of Human Resource Management Policies and Practices in Asia. Edward Elgar Publishing.