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Making it all work in the real world

Updated: 2012-11-24 10:02
By Zhang Haizhou ( China Daily)

European firms take on apprentices to improve China's vocational training

Making it all work in the real world

Li Lei guides apprentices at a training center run by German company Festo in Jinan, Shandong province, on Oct 30, 2012. [Photo by Zhang Haizhou / China Daily]

Mechanical engineering student Wu Xiangbo was looking forward to his first part-time job, hoping to gain some practical experience along with the extra cash.

"Ideally, I wanted some job related to my major in manufacturing," says the 22-year-old vocational training college student in Jinan, capital of East China's Shandong province.

Sadly, after several attempts at job-hunting, Wu ended up working in a restaurant, with the only hands-on experience he gained coming from dishes.

Making it all work in the real world
Wu Xiangbo discusses the practical training at the center run by Festo. [Photo by Zhang Haizhou / China Daily]

However, he was much luckier in his second year, with the experience he was seeking being virtually handed to him on a silver platter. He became one of the first of 28 apprentices at a new training center in Jinan, opened on Oct 30 by the German company Festo, a supplier of pneumatic and electrical automation technology.

In partnership with Jinan Vocational Training College, it is Festo's first full-scale training center outside Germany, and is aimed at introducing the German dual education system to China, as well as aiding the company's production in a rapidly developing Asian market.

A dual education system combines apprenticeships in a company and vocational education at a vocational school in one course

The project reflects the challenge foreign companies, especially high-end manufacturers, face in finding sufficient numbers of skilled workers in China - despite the country saying it has the world's largest vocational education system.

This shortfall in talent has become particularly noticeable as China's economic base shifts from low-cost manufacturing, mostly for exports, to high-tech industries and a bigger domestic market.

It is a huge issue, says Britta Buschfeld, head of recruitment, training and vocational training services for the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce (AHK) in Shanghai.

An AHK survey last year showed that the shortage of highly skilled workers is one of the biggest concerns German firms have in China, she says, adding that about 5,000 German companies are operating in the country.

Buschfeld says it is also a concern for Chinese firms. "What China really needs is to raise the capability of its workers," she says.

Giles Blackburn, a director at the China-Britain Business Council, says many British companies in the high-end manufacturing and advanced engineering sectors find it difficult to recruit skilled employees in China because of strong competition from China's domestic enterprises for the available talent.

"The shortage has the potential to become more severe. Multinational companies are prepared to invest in the training of workers because there is often a gap between the skills required and those provided by Chinese vocational education."

China's Education Ministry said in May that the country's vocational education system had trained more than 200 million skilled workers and technicians between 1978 and 2011. Almost 30 million students were enrolled in 14,457 vocational schools last year.

More significantly, Education Minister Yuan Guiren said China aimed to establish a "modern vocational education system" with a "global standard" by 2020.

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