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Vocational Education Presents One Solution

Jan 11, 2017

Innovation in vocational education and training should be increased to solve the widening supply-demand gap for high-skill labor in China, experts say.

Zheng Lu, associate professor of sociology at Tsinghua University, says that China's current investment in vocational education is not enough.

"Figures show that, on average, each student from a vocational school receives about one-third of the financial support that a college student gets," he says. "But, in fact, vocational schools need to spend a lot on teaching. For example, if you need teach electric arc welding, you need machines and equipment, which are quite expensive."

Skills Shortages in the Chinese Labor Market, a J.P. Morgan commissioned report last week found that the supply-demand gap for high-skill labor is widening in China, as its economy transitions to a more competitive posture, with increased added value in advanced technology. Skilled workers account for only about 19 percent of the entire workforce, with highly skilled workers constituting only 5 percent.

Zheng adds that there are about 70 million left-behind children of migrant workers, and 20 million mobile children who live with their migrant worker parents in the cities, who would account for about one-third of all Chinese workers if they were in the workforce. Such children are more likely to attend vocational schools, Zheng says.

"This group is huge and very important for China's economic development in the future," he says.

Chauncy Lennon, managing director of Global Philanthropy at J.P.Morgan, says that as China is setting new trends, employers, job seekers, companies, industries, policy makers and governments all need to build a new system to deal with new realities; and one challenge is to improve on the old way of providing vocational training to frontline workers, as many teachers in vocational schools don't have sufficient and up-to-date professional skills to teach students.

Diana Tsui, head of Global Philanthropy for the Asia Pacific, says that J.P. Morgan is now running a pilot program of about 30 secondary vocational schools with the China Development Research Foundation in Sichuan, Guangzhou and Guizhou provinces to update the skills of vocational school teachers and upgrade the trainning curriculum based on industry demand.

"If the model proves to be successful, we would love to see it being replicated in other parts of China and have more business organizations and even government involved," she says.

Feng Jin, a professor of economics at Fudan University, says that the shortage of high-skilled workers cannot be filled in a short time. And people's concept of vocational education also matters.

"In China, many people still hold the old concept: If you work in the manufacturing sector, even if you make a lot of money, your social-economic status is still not well recognized. It is the problem in the social value system," she says, which is why many parents want to send their children to college, rather than to vocational schools.