Use of student interns highlights China labor shortage

Sun Jan 6, 2013 4:17pm EST
 
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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...

 
Chinese college students majoring in textile work at a garment factory in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, October 19, 2012. More and more factories in China move inland from higher-cost coastal manufacturing centers, labor is turning out to be neither as cheap nor abundant as many companies believed. As a result, many multinationals and their suppliers are corralling millions of teenage vocational students to work long hours doing assembly line jobs that might otherwise go unfilled - jobs that the students have no choice but to accept. Picture taken October 19, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer