Generally, Socio-economic status is a measure of an individual’s or family’s economic and social position in relation to others, based on income, education and occupation.(Northwestern University, 2010.) In our project, we have narrowed down to mainly investigate minorities’ ability of job searching in Hong Kong, which is also closely related to one’s income level.
Cantonese as a barrier in job searching
Noman and Sehrish have both experienced difficulty in looking for jobs in Hong Kong with respect to their inability to articulate in Cantonese. They both pointed out yet again the difficult nature of Chinese which makes them formidable to meet the basic job requirement of knowing how to read and write in Chinese. Apparently, they may be restricted to look for jobs that are completely unrelated to Chinese and in this regard, they have both worked as an English tutor in last year’s summer break and that Sehrish have also worked for a while in a Belgium restaurant as a waitress in which all the administration work were solely based on English. From this, we can see that the language barrier has limited vastly the number of job choices.
The above situation may not be surprising when we take a closer look into the figures presented by the Hong Kong Government and several NGOs. A survey conducted by the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) in the last decade has revealed the fact that unemployment rate of ethnic minorities, including Pakistanis, are disproportionately higher than the general population. Take Nepalese construction worker as an example, the unemployment rate was around 42 percent whereas the figure for Hong Kong’s overall construction labour population was about 20 percent (Lin, 2004). To look more closely on how linguistic barrier has contributed to this phenomenon, the SoCO has reported that some of the minorities were rejected during job searches on the grounds that they did not know the local language (Cantonese), although the job did not require the ability to speak the language (Lin, 2004).
From the government statistics, the most frequent difficulty encountered by the minorities is the language problem, where most of them do not speak Chinese or even English. The situation may be even worse for Pakistanis, in which 45.1% of the Thais claim to be fluent in Cantonese while this is the case only for 10.3% of the Pakistanis. Similarly, over 85% of the Indians are considered to be fluent in English but this only applies to 15.1% of the Pakistanis.(Company, 2000) This shows that perhaps not only Cantonese is a sort of linguistic barrier for them but perhaps also English.
One may infer from the aforementioned figures that the Pakistanis are subjected to a relatively lower Socio-Economic status due to their disadvantaged position in working in Hong Kong. In addition, both of our interviewees have worked as an English tutor and this may be a more fortunate case given that they are both receiving tertiary education. Although we cannot draw any conclusion that minorities who are better educated are more competitive in looking for jobs, we can still infer from our interviewees that Cantonese is a definite obstacle for them.
Socio-economic – Education aspect
Although the aspect of education was not investigated in our interview, from our literature review, we have observed that a majority of the students (56.5%) thinks that they do not have an equal educational opportunities as the local Chinese students in Hong Kong and they have pointed out that they are limited to mainly 2 choices of secondary School, which is Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary School (West Kowloon) and Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo). It should be noted that one of our interviewee, Noman also comes from Delia Memorial School (Broadway). The major reason was revealed by Noman that these schools provide curriculums that are specially designed for minorities and claimed that they are indeed easier than the local student’s curriculum.
Attitude towards Cantonese
Attitude towards the language
During the interview, we have also touched onto how the minorities will overcome this language barrier that may have prevented them from moving up the social ladder. This has also revealed their demand and positive attitude to equip themselves with better Cantonese regardless of its difficulty as they has attributed their desire to work in Hong Kong in the future to the sense of identity as a Hong Kong citizens over the past 15 years of living.
To enhance their competence in expressing themselves in Cantonese, Noman has taken the opportunities offered by the School of Chinese, Faculty of Arts in HKU. A series of course called “Cantonese as a Foreign Language” are offered in 8 different levels as a 6-credit course each where students are advised to choose the most appropriate level of difficulty on the completion of a placement test (Chinese Language Centre, 2013). He has completed level 1 & 2 and is planning to take a few more in the coming years in hopes of raising his competitiveness in the society and eliminating the language barrier that has existed over the past years of part-time jobs searching. Sehrish had also approached the series of language enhancement courses and agreed that she will be more competent if she learn the local language.
The above positive attitude is also reflected in the research conducted by the PolyU. 86% of the 156 respondents who demand more Chinese education consider Cantonese to be fundamental for further study and/or future employment in Hong Kong. Among the remaining 44 respondents, 77.3% thinks the language is too difficult and 20.5% of them mentioned that they will not be working in Hong Kong so the language itself is not useful for them (Chan, 2005). From these figures, it is understandable that the majority of minorities are motivated to learn the language in pursuit of attaining a decent job in their future.