China enhances vocational training of migrant workers
As a migrant worker, Li Weichao spent much of his youth shifting from one temp job to another, living thousands of miles away from his family to perform backbreaking labor for minimal pay.
The hours were long, the travel was tiring and the pay, while better than some, was just enough to get by.
"I used to do manual work on construction sites, making around 300 yuan ($48) a day. I was always worried about finding my next job," the 26-year-old from Henan province said.
But his recent graduation from vocational school looks to change that. Receiving technical training as a chef, Li recently landed a stable job close to home working at a restaurant in Zhengzhou, capital city of Henan province.
"Since attending vocational training school to receive training, I think the days of worrying about my next job are over," he says.
As China loosens household registration restrictions to allow migrant workers to receive equal urban welfare, many like Li now seek to settle down in cities.
The household registration system is tied to one's place of residence and was set up in 1958 to control movement of rural population into cities. The system has prevented the country's 269 million migrant workers from receiving the same public benefits as city dwellers and is widely believed to hold back urbanization and domestic consumption.
With the restrictions changing as many as 100 million migrant workers are expected to become "real city dwellers" by 2020.
To ensure new residents can find stable jobs to afford city life, cities across the country are focusing on furthering vocational training for migrant workers.
Li's home province of Henan, the country's most populated, has a work force of 49 million people. In 2009, Henan launched a province-wide campaign to strengthen the working skills of its residents by offering training programs.
By the end of 2013, the programs helped train a total of 17.8 million people.
Anhui province, another region with a strong work force, also adopted training programs to improve the skill set of its workers. In Anhui, these programs are currently offered not just by government, but schools, private institutions and businesses.
Luo Qunhu, a migrant worker from Anhui, doubled his income after receiving vocational training. Previously earning about 2,000 yuan a month in a local factory, he was trained to be a technician and his monthly salary rose to 4,000 yuan in the same factory.
Official statistics show that, since the new training programs, the average monthly income of Anhui's migrant workers increased to 2,909 yuan - 300 yuan higher than the national average.
However, one survey found that only about 30 percent of China's migrant workers have undergone vocational training. A lack of technical skills are the main obstacle preventing them from becoming urban and industrial workers, the survey found.
Zhang Junjie, a political advisor from Anhui, has been studying the vocational training of migrant workers for years. His research reveals that most vocational training schools only provide old-fashioned courses such as computer, welding and hairdressing. Such courses are out of touch with the diverse needs of China's changing job marketplace.
The new programs include training in such skills as auto repair, molding for the manufacturing industry and heavy construction vehicle operation.
Meanwhile, vocational training is all the more necessary for migrant workers wishing to settle down in cities where job markets already face fierce competition.
According to a national plan on urbanization issued early this year, China will conduct vocational training for 10 million migrant workers a year starting from 2014 to 2020 with the goal of helping develop the nation acquire specific skills.
But Zhang says if the training is to be effective, it must be specific in its offerings, adapting to China's new job market to offer training for skills that are in demand and will help migrant workers find employment quickly.