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China jobs:how Beijing’s vocational-training push is undermined by deeply ingrained education stigma

After earning a technical degree from the Guizhou College of Electronic Science and Technology, Guo Wenli found it impossible to put his academic credentials to use in the real world. So, now he sells real estate.

“My major was supposed to correspond with machining parts in factories, but what the teachers taught was not really used in factories,” the 23-year-old said after putting his time and money into obtaining a degree in computerised numerical control, which focuses on the automated control of machining tools by means of a computer.

But Guo said that most students in his class were not able to master the practical part of the course, and he attributed this to a lack of opportunities to operate the machines themselves. This left them lacking the basic skills to use the equipment during their final year of factory training.

“For example, I could score a 92 in programming, but when I got into the factory, I didn’t even know how to operate the dashboard,” Guo said, adding that teachers are mostly undergraduate degree holders, rather than skilled workers, which results in students not learning the necessary skills in practical courses.

Coupled with the nation’s economic downturn and increasing strain on its workforce, China is making young people aware of the need to possess technical skills, which has resulted in some vocational schools becoming more competitive, according to Zhang Xiaorao, director of Silk Road Vocational College.

“We used to have difficulty enrolling students, but now the number of students is far greater than our demand, and we even need to select from them,” Zhang said, adding that the current labour shortage in some factories has made it easier for vocational school students to find jobs than their peers with university degrees.

Officials in Beijing expect the number of university graduates to reach 11.58 million this year, an increase of 820,000 from 2022.


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