One thing you can be sure of is that providing the training for over 8,000 government staff who manage the venues hosting a wide range of cultural and leisure activities is far from relaxing and is definitely no walk in the park.
"Our focus is to offer training that meets operational needs and increases service standards for the public," says Brenda Law, chief training officer for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. "The emphasis is on professionalism and practicality and the job involves arranging tailor-made programmes, some of which take place on the job."
In addition, there are in-depth courses in general management, languages, communication and IT-related subjects. When appropriate, local experts or specialists from overseas will give lectures or lead seminars on topics such as sports and cultural venues, managing national sports associations, horticulture, organising events and marketing the arts.
Such diversified programmes require systematic planning. Therefore, an annual plan is drawn up based on service needs and the feedback from staff surveys about training requirements. The findings are presented to a departmental training committee for discussion and approval before decisions are implemented.
"For specific areas like customer service, the surveys help to determine our approach, so we can address precise needs and difficulties," Ms Law explains. "That ensures training programmes are relevant for staff in their dealings with customers."
To prepare for the 5th East Asian Games being held in Hong Kong in 2009, the department sent staff to work with the organiser of last year's games in Macau to learn about running a major multi-sports event. However, that was just one aspect of what has to be done. "You need specific training to organise major events, but these must be built on the skills and knowledge staff have to discharge their day-to-day duties," Ms Law explains.
As an example, a programme was initiated last year for the employees of 87 sports centres overseen by the department. The objective was to introduce reforms and improvements by listening to the public and enhancing service standards. Training plans were devised accordingly and follow-up surveys were used to gauge their general effectiveness. The entire process took about nine months to complete. "We have reached a certain level but won't stop there because we want to see sustained improvement," Ms Law says.
In recent years, the department has actively brought in external coaches, trainers and consultants with different expertise in order to help out. The Civil Service Training and Development Institute has also lent a hand by providing relevant courses in senior development and financial management skills and by offering practical advice to meet the varying needs of different divisions.
Since each government department is financially independent, resources for training must be carefully allocated. "We don't operate a big budget," Ms Law says. "However, as a department, we have accumulated experience over the years and pass this on to our own staff at less cost."
If necessary, though, the budget does stretch to covering occasional overseas training programmes which are not available locally. Consequently, in 2005, around 35 employees were sent abroad to study such diverse topics as garden design, horticulture, plant conservation techniques, outdoor recreation, and management of performing arts. "In Hong Kong, it's mainly the government that provides leisure services," Ms Law says. "If our experts go abroad on exchange programmes or attachments, they can gain wider experience and bring back new insights."
Ms Law believes that team building is a key to providing good customer service. Therefore, programmes combining classroom and experiential training have been organised to enhance team spirit and collaboration. "Through taking part in activities not necessarily related to work, staff realise what makes a good team and how to communicate better, build leadership and achieve goals," she says. Debriefing sessions follow each activity to discuss how the team faced various challenges and how certain lessons can be applied in the workplace.
When every working day can be hectic, the main challenge is often to ensure staff receive all the training they need. As a result, the department has produced a series of CDs and DVDs giving employees the chance to learn at their own pace and when time allows. "It is a cost effective method and increases training efficiency," Ms Law says. "We encourage this type of learning, even if it is more difficult to monitor and requires staff to take the initiative."
She adds that there are also refresher courses available for staff who are being reassigned or taking part in job rotations. "The ultimate goal is to enhance our services and, in doing that, we have to satisfy both internal and external customers," she says.