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China Daily Website

Turning point for labor

Updated: 2013-07-22 08:19
By Chen Yingqun, Qiu Bo and Cecily Liu ( China Daily)

"Most of the job vacancies in the cities are in factories and services industries and, as such, not many migrant workers are equipped with the skills to fill these roles. This is why vocational education has big potential in China," Zhan says.

According to Zhan, most urban jobs require highly skilled workers, because Chinese companies are gradually moving up the value chain. At the same time, improving living standards in cities also means urban people are now more demanding about the services they receive.

"In the past, migrant workers could go through a training process of 10 days to a fortnight before they were ready to start work, because they typically worked in jobs such as parcel deliveries on motorbikes, which require little skill," Zhan says.

"But nowadays, there are many posts in urban factories that demand highly skilled technicians, which means students need to undergo extensive training."

Despite an availability of vacancies in cities' services and high-tech sectors, vocational education providers are still finding it hard to recruit students because vocational education is seen in China as less respectful than university education, he says.

Wang Fengqin, a 17-year-old high school student from Wangmo, a remote county in Southwest China's Guizhou province, concurs with Zhan's observations.

"My mother wanted to send me to a technical school rather than high school, while the family elders insisted that I would have a better future after high school graduation," she says. Wang's mother, who is a migrant worker in coastal Zhejiang province, believes vocational education is more suitable for her daughter.

Several other students who are likely to end up as migrant workers also share Wang's dilemma.

Zhan says that most of the young people in China aspire to be a civil servant, whose average salary is about 4,000 yuan ($652) a month, much below the average salary of 8,000 yuan that some highly-skilled technicians can earn.

But because civil servants receive better benefits, more students aspire for those jobs, and the only route to achieve this is university education, and not vocational education.

"This perception is a great challenge, which China needs to overcome with government policy encouragement. Some improvements have been made already," Zhan says.

He adds that it is encouraging to note that the Chinese government has invested heavily in the training of students at vocational education colleges. However, he says the government should also remove career barriers for vocational education graduates from a policy perspective.

Germany experiences

"We could learn important lessons from Germany's vocational education system, including the investment they place in vocational training ideologies, methods and resources.

"Germany firmly believes that economic development is inseparable from vocational training, which is why the government, companies and colleges all invest in vocational education," Zhan says.

With established vocational training systems at home, many German and British education providers and government departments have been keen to share their experiences with China.

They often set up training organizations in partnership with Chinese companies or government departments. They also work closely with European manufacturing and advanced engineering companies in China, who require highly skilled technicians that are familiar with working in an international corporate culture.

One example is Tianjin Sino-German Vocational Technical College, established in 1985 as a partnership between the Chinese and German governments.