China taps tech training to tackle labor market mismatch

Sat Jun 7, 2014 10:26pm EDT
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By Li Hui and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is waking up to a potentially damaging mismatch in its labor market.

A record 7.27 million graduates - equivalent to the entire population of Hong Kong - will enter the job market this year; a market that has a shortage of skilled workers.

Yet many of these university and college students are ill-equipped to fill those jobs, prompting the government to look at how it can overhaul the higher education system to bridge the gap. The problem is part structural, part attitude.

While most liberal arts students are still looking for work after graduating this summer, 22-year-old Li Xidong is preparing to start a job as an electrician that he landed well before finishing three years of training at a small vocational school.

Li's diploma may appear less impressive, but his coveted job in a tight labor market may hold the key to the employment conundrum in the world's second largest economy. The machinery sector alone projects a gap of 600,000 computer-automated machine tool operators this year, media have reported.

"We're trained as skilled workers, it's quite easy for us to find jobs while still in school," said Li, who is in the final stretch of a 3-year program at Hebei Energy College of Vocation and Technology in Tangshan, an industrial city 180 kms (112 miles) east of Beijing.

"Seventy percent of our class found work and some others are starting their own businesses," Li noted, as he waited for a friend at a recruitment fair in the capital, where fewer than a third of this year's university graduates had found work by end-April.

The government has said it plans to refocus more than 600 local academic colleges on vocational and technical education - replacing literature, history and philosophy with technology skills such as how to maintain lathes and build ventilation systems. Course curricula will be tailored to meet employers' specific needs.   Continued...

Job seekers attend a job fair at Tianjin University November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer