Use of student interns highlights China labor shortage
By Lucy Hornby
BEIJING (Reuters) - In September, the largest factory in the northeastern Chinese coastal city of Yantai called on the local government with a problem - a shortage of 19,000 workers as the deadline on a big order approached.
Yantai officials came to the rescue, ordering vocational high schools to send students to the plant run by Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese maker of smartphones, computers and gaming equipment.
As firms like Foxconn shift factories away from higher-cost centers in the Pearl River Delta in southern Guangdong province, they are discovering that workers in new locations across China are not as abundant as they had expected.
That has prompted multinationals and their suppliers to use millions of teenage students from vocational and technical schools on assembly lines. The schools teach a variety of trades and include mandatory work experience, which in practice means students must accept work assignments to graduate.
In any given year, at least 8 million vocational students man China's assembly lines and workshops, according to Ministry of Education estimates - or one in eight Chinese aged 16 to 18. In 2010, the ministry ordered vocational schools to fill any shortages in the workforce. The minimum legal working age is 16.
Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, employs 1.2 million workers across China. Nearly 3 percent are student interns.
The company "has a huge appetite for workers", Wang Weihui, vice director of the Yantai Fushan Polytechnic School, told Reuters during a recent visit to the city.
"It tightens the labor market," said Wang, whose school sends its students to work at Foxconn and other firms. Continued...