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China badly needs 'gray-collars' for manufacturing
Updated: 2004-03-21 15:21

China is evolving into a huge manufacturing base for the whole world, and sorely needs trained technicians, dubbed "gray-collar" workers, according to economists.

The dearth of "gray collar" workers will become a major disincentive for the further development of manufacturing in China, they believe.

In the next few years, enterprises, particularly those in the private sector, should take the responsibility to cultivate gray- collar workers, combined with an on-going government-supported training program, they suggest.

The gray-collar workers should have good education, be innovative, with professional skills, according to Zheng Huiqiang, vice president of the Shanghai Applied Technology College.

With skills that are rare resources for enterprises, senior technicians at some large foreign-invested companies get salaries higher than those for corporate managers.

Now it is harder to recruit a senior technician than to enroll a master's graduate or a PhD, said Professor Liu Zhilin, with the Liaoning Engineering Institute in northeast China's Liaoning Province.

Of the 70 million technicians in China, less than five percent are senior professionals, a proportion far below the 30-40 percent in developed nations. Shanghai alone is short of 15,000 gray- collar workers, Zheng Huiqiang says.

The 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is expected to provide thousands of job opportunities, 80 percent of which will be gray- collar ones, Liu Zhilin predicts.

It is quite easy for graduates from the three vocational and technical schools in Luzhou City of the hinterland province of Sichuan, southwest China, to find a job even in the economically developed coastal regions, as there is a short supply of such talented people nationwide, said Xiao Tianren, mayor of the city. Most of the graduates have gone to regions boasting a flourishing manufacturing industry, including the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta, Xiao says.

The major reason behind the insufficient supply is the fact that middle-school graduates continue crowding into the narrow lane towards university. The result is low enrollment and waste of human resources and training equipment at vocational and technical schools, according to Liu Zhilin.

Liu says that in 2002, 60 polytechnic schools in Liaoning Province enrolled only 17,000 students, 300 in each on average.

"We were worried about the scarcity of technicians, when universities have increased their enrollment and cultivated too many bachelors, masters and doctors for a virtually limited market of managerial personnel," Zheng Huiqiang says.

Vocational training is an important way to cultivate gray- collar workers, Zheng says.

He suggests that governments should encourage, through financially aiding training services, both employed and unemployed people to participate in vocational training programs, establish new certification criteria for the training and improve a screening mechanism for talented professionals.

To this end, more than 500 Chinese professional training schools and 1,400 companies and enterprises have decided to join hands to cultivate gray-collar and blue-collar workers.

This is the first step of a national program on cultivating talented people with professional skills, jointly initiated by the Ministry of Education and five governmental administrations, according to Wu Qidi, vice minister of education.

The program will first cover four priority areas including numerical control technology, computer and software and vehicle maintenance.

Under the program, Wu said, one million professionals will be trained in the concerned fields from this year to 2007, with short- term training offered to three million people.

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