On-the-Spot Report

From Migrant Workers to Skilled Laborers

By staff reporter LIU YI

As the director of a vocational school, Li Haiyan was particularly interested in hearing about the government’s new training plan that Premier Wen Jiabao delivered in the government work report at the Third Session of the 11th NPC on March 5. “We will continue to strengthen the nation’s vocational and advanced skills training, especially for migrant workers and farmers,” the Premier stressed in his report.

For a long time, the term “migrant worker” has been synonymous for cheap labor force. In Li Haiyan’s hometown Zhoukou, Henan Province, about 90 percent of the 11 million residents live in the countryside. Owing to their lack of access to education, most of them have had no options other than that taking labor intensive low paying jobs to earn a living. For them, the only way to improve their situation would be to learn new skills and technical abilities.

Whether migrant workers can grow to become highly skilled industrial workers will be vital for the future of China’s factories. In 2009 the financial crisis gave a nudge to many export-oriented companies, demonstrating the limitations of developing their enterprises solely based on taking advantage of cheap labors.

“Migrant workers need a new name,” said Premier Wen during an online discussion, “they have grown to be the main force of modern industrial workers.”

Li Haiyan is very happy to see that vocational education is now seeing increased attention. At her school, almost all the students survive financially through their farming, which makes collecting tuition fees a big problem. Now students are entitled to better financial aid or scholarships for several training programs. One such program is the Sunshine Project carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture. On March 5, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security announced a new training program aimed at covering six million migrant workers every year.

The most popular training programs at Li’s school are electronic appliance maintenance, auto repair, mold processing, and electrical. After the two-year education, graduates can earn a least 1500 to 2000 every month, almost as much as the average college graduate. Their wages are expected to rise along with their experience accumulated.

In addition to the regular programs, Li Haiyan also provides short-term courses in areas like sewing, welding, cooking, all of which are popular with the older continuing education students.

Li Haiyan calls for more preferential policies to cover urban residents who are living bellow the poverty line, and for the unemployed.


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