APEL.Q Case studiesHong Kong APEL.Q China case study in training and the world of work

APEL.Q of workers in Hong Kong’s watch and clock industry


The watch and clock industry is traditional in Hong Kong. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, it was the predominant industry in Hong Kong’s economy.  Since the 1990s, the watch and clock industry in Hong Kong has undergone great changes with most of the watch and clock manufacturers now setting up their production lines in the mainland.

The Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) mechanism under the Hong Kong Qualifications Framework (HKQF) is a very important initiative to recognize work experiences and competences acquired by practitioners in the workplace.  It also lays a good foundation for the development of a wider scope of Recognition, Validation and Accreditation (RVA) of non-formal and informal learning to be implemented at a later stage.  The RPL is important for the watch and clock industry for political, economic, social and technological reasons. Politically, the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) between Hong Kong and the mainland in 2003 has opened up the mainland market. It enables Hong Kong enterprises to enjoy zero-tariff preferential treatment. Economically, to cope with competition from South-East Asia and the mainland, Hong Kong traders must explore new markets proactively and strengthen competitiveness by enhancing quality design and productivity. Socially, because of people’s tastes and lifestyles, watches and clocks are not just basic necessities but fashion accessories. Technologically, effectiveness and standards of scientific research activities will affect the cost, quality and quantity of watch and clock products, thus technology plays an important role and has a decisive part in competition.

Currently, most Hong Kong watch and clock manufacturers still operate mainly in the mode of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).  The greatest problem with OEM operation is labour shortage. To overcome the shortage of talent with professional knowledge on watch and clock manufacturing, enterprises must train up their staff.

The purpose of RPL in Hong Kong’s watch and clock industry is to enable experienced employees to receive formal recognition of knowledge, skills and experience already acquired to promote and facilitate further training and lifelong learning. RPL is an alternative route to obtain QF-recognized qualifications for workplace experience (i.e. non-formal and informal learning) leading to the Statement of Attainment offered by an appointed assessment agency, namely, the Vocational Training Council (VTC) in Hong Kong.

Procedures and processes

The watch and clock industry was one of three pilot industries to have implemented the RPL mechanism under the HKQF since 2008.  Under the RPL mechanism, there is a 5-year transitional period in which practitioners may apply for recognition of qualifications at QF levels 1 to 3 by producing documentary proof of their years of relevant working experience without the need to take any assessment tests.

After the expiry of the RPL transitional period for the watch and clock industry, all practitioners seeking recognition of RPL qualifications at QF levels 1 to 4 must sit assessment tests.  This is to enhance the credibility and acceptance of qualifications recognized under RPL mechanism.

Recognition criteria

  1. Minimum years of service: the amount of experience required for RPL qualifications at QF levels 1 to 4 are 1, 3, 5 and 6 years respectively;
  2. Relevant work experience: The requirement is benchmarked against Unit of Competency Clusters (major functional areas[1]) according to the QF level;
  3. Assessment test: optional for applications at levels 1 to 3 and compulsory for level 4 during the transitional period. Once the transitional period is over, all applicants will be required to undergo an assessment test.

Assessment agency

RPL is conducted by an appointed assessment agency nominated by respective Industry Training Advisory Committees (ITACs) and approved by the Secretary for Education upon accreditation by the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ). The VTC has been appointed as the assessment agency for the provision of RPL assessment services in the watch and clock industry.

Assessment Method

The Units of Competencies (UoCs) listed in the Specification of Competency Standards (SCS) for the watch and clock industry will be the reference for RPL assessments. The RPL mechanism will be conducted in the form of unit clusters. Each unit cluster will spell out the competence requirements for the relevant job type together with the requirements for years of work and and relevant experience for practitioners’ reference. Applicants may decide on the level of qualification for the unit clusters based on their prior relevant working experience.

RPL assessment for the watch and clock industry is conducted by:
(1) verifying the documents that support the number of years of relevant working experience; and
(2) interviewing the practitioner for 30 minutes to answer questions related to UoC clusters under the SCS for the qualification level desired. Applicants must achieve an overall score of 60 per cent of the total weighting in the interview.

Documentary proof

‘Years of relevant work experience’ is the cumulative number of years engaged in the relevant job and its related duties. The employer or an authorized person (such as a departmental head or supervisor) must issue certification of years of service. If certification by the employer is not available, other supplementary evidences can be submitted for the assessment agency’s consideration, such as an attestation of the job issued by a registered trade association or labour union, tax demand notes, payroll slips, certificates of provident fund or business registration certificates in the case of self-employed practitioners.

Applicants who cannot provide the aforementioned documents may submit an ‘individual portfolio’ as supplementary evidence, which may include:

  • a curriculum vitae
  • an employment contract
  • a training certificate
  • letters of recommendation or testimonials issued by employers or industry professionals
  • a record of work (e.g. a proposal or financial report)
  • a letter of commendation issued by clients
  • a portfolio or work sample (e.g. product design)
  • proof of professional qualifications/membership of a professional body

Statement of Attainment

The assessment agency will award successful applicants a Statement of Attainment. The certificate will specify the specific job functions, the clusters and the QF level attained.

Outcomes and ways forward

The RPL has provided a platform to promote and facilitate manpower development and upgrading through lifelong learning. Experienced practitioners in the industry will not need to start from scratch to pursue further training. Experienced industry practitioners whose prior learning and experience has been recognized with a competence-based qualification are more inclined to improve their skills and knowledge, having been given a clear learning and progression pathway by the QF. Employers can also recruit competent candidates and develop SCS-based in-house training to meet their needs.

To encourage greater participation of industry practitioners, the Government of HKSAR has collaborated with the RPL assessment agency and the industry to organize briefings and promotions for stakeholders and to provide them with background details, application procedures, RPL assessment arrangements and relevant financial assistance. These measures are intended to enhance practitioners’ understanding of the relevant information and the benefits of the RPL mechanism. The government also strives to enhance the acceptance of the RPL mechanism. It encourages employers, professional bodies and education and training providers to recognize qualifications acquired under the mechanism, so as to assist practitioners in pursuing continuous learning to sustain the development of the watch and clock industry.


Information Services Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. 2012. Press Release: LCQ:11 Recognition of Prior Learning Mechanism.http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201211/21/P201211210308.htm (Accessed 22 February 2016).

Qualifications Framework Secretariat. 2015. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) mechanism under the Hong Kong Qualifications Framework (QF) and its applications in industries. PowerPoint presentation for ‘The Inclusion of Green Competencies in the Recognition of Prior Learning: A Comparative Study of Seven Countries in the Asia and Pacific Region’. https://www.ied.edu.hk/include/getrichfile.php?key=d94f45ecdacf7d1e72c037a4659f4804&secid=6393&filename=unevochk/Symposium_Aug2015_ppt/UNEVOC%20UIL%20Symposium%20Aug% 202015_HKQF.pdf  (Accessed 22 February 2016).

Appointed Assessment Agency for the Watch & Clock Industry: Vocational Training Council. 2013. Qualifications Framework: Specification of Competency Standards for the Watch & Clock Industry in Hong Kong, Version 2, October 2013.http://rpl.vtc.edu.hk/e1_2_2_SCS/e_wc.pdf  (Accessed on 22 February, 2016).

Appointed Assessment Agency for the Watch & Clock Industry: Vocational Training Council. 2011. Recognition of Prior Learning Mechanism.http://rpl.vtc.edu.hk/e1_1_1.aspx (Accessed on 22 February, 2016).


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