CHINA WEEKLY I March 2013
A worker at Quanta, a factory making Hewlett-Packard appliances, sings karaoke in the company’s employee dormitory, Chongqing, November 27, 2012
Photo by cfp
year gap between two competing workers can be a considerable handicap in terms of upward mobility. Between 1990 and 2010, the average time spent by adult Chinese in school increased by a mere 1.3 years, despite unprecedented financial and political support for further education. This is why Professor Cai is particularly concerned about what he called “negative incentives” when it comes to migrant workers’ attitudes toward their own qualifications. “This golden age of ample job opportunities and good salaries may pass very fast as companies are forced to upgrade their production process faster than ever,” he said to NewsChina. Cai’s worries are well-grounded in historical precedent. For many rural students and their parents, quitting school is the only way to maintain a meager household income. As the average cost of high schools and colleges has increased exponentially, many rural families simply prefer the immediacy of returns guaranteed by sending their children to work. A commentary in State mouthpiece People’s Daily in August 2011 claimed that one million high school students quit the national college enrollment examinations in 2010, most of them in order to enter the workplace. Rural students abandoning the schoolroom for the factory floor is such a problem in China that a series of high-profile awareness campaigns have been launched in recent decades in an attempt to slow down dropout rates. However, this tactic may indeed have had its day. Chinese factories have begun to install more advanced machines requiring trained operators with specific skill sets. Mr Huang, owner of a door and window processing factory in Putian city, Fujian Province, has already reduced his workforce by 10 percent after installing a line of expensive new machinery. 120 kilometers away in the city of Jinjiang, Mr Lin, manager of a paper packaging company, has recently considered doing the same, though he is currently agonizing over cost-benefit analyses. Huang found that most of his younger job applicants, with an average of only nine years of compulsory education, lack the “willingness and capability” to improve their skills. “When choosing jobs, they are more interested in where to have fun after work, rather than their learning curve,” he said. What is at risk is not only the job prospects of migrant workers. Watson Liu, senior partner and vicepresident with Roland Berger Strategy Consultants Shanghai, helps Chinese companies invest overseas. His clients had to give up their plans to bring their best Chinese workers over to their European plants
A Foxconn employee eats lunch under a picture of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, November 29, 2012
after visiting factories in Europe. They had no choice but to hire much more expensive, but much more highly skilled, French, German or Polish workers. The Chinese alternatives would simply have cost too much to bring up to scratch. “With more graduates from Chinese and Western universities, the R&D gap between China and Europe is gradually narrowing,” Liu told NewsChina. “However, the gap [between China and Europe] when it comes to blue collar labor, the people who implement the products devised in R&D, is alarming; this is the real risk for China’s manufacturing.”
Hard to Match?
Away from the production line in China’s boardrooms, there is an argument to be made that China’s youth are already overqualified in relation to the average requirements of the labor market. Unemployment has soared among college graduates in recent years. Yin Chengji, spokesman of the Ministry of