China: Skills Training for Rural Migrants Makes a Big Difference

August 7, 2015


  • Chinese rural migrant workers usually fill the most menial and lowest-paying jobs in cities due to a lack of technical and soft skills.
  • Vocational skills training can lead to better jobs with higher pay for migrant workers and opens the door to entrepreneurship.
  • A World Bank-supported project helps improve the quality and relevance of skills training to make migrant workers more competitive in the urban job market.

Anhui, China – Agriculture jobs have been declining for years in China due to increases in agricultural productivity.  At the same time, the dynamic urban economy has generated great demands for labor. In the inland Anhui Province, almost half of the rural labor force has moved to cities and non-farm sector.  However, because of a lack of technical and soft skills, migrant workers usually fill the most menial and lowest-paying jobs in urban labor markets.

Skills training brings better employment opportunities

Zhang Jian left his rural village ten years ago to become an electrician in a power company. He is currently attending an electrical engineering program. “The good thing about on-the-job training is that I can put what I’ve learned into practice right away, and it helps improve my daily work,” he said.

Zhang’s training is part of the “Rural Migrants Skills Development and Employment Project” supported by the World Bank. The project, implemented in three provinces of Anhui, Ningxia and Shandong, is focused on furthering vocational training to help rural migrants find better jobs, increase incomes and improve working conditions. 

A year before Zhang, Pan Guoqing attended a benchwork program. After graduation he returned to the factory he had worked for. With improved skills, he soon got a promotion and a pay raise.

Skills development is the key to climbing the career ladder, from low-skilled job to high-skilled job, he said.  One particularly important feature of the program for Pan is the ability to keep in touch with mentors – making lifelong learning a reality.

“Whenever I encounter problems in my work, I call them and consult with them – this is of great help to me,” he said.

Employers are equally pleased with the training opportunities available.

Anhui Xingrui Gear Transmission Company has been working with Liu’an Vocational and Technical School to provide on-the-job training for their employees. “This is a win-win for both workers and enterprises,” said Wei Wei, a Human Resources Manager with the Anhui Xingrui Gear Transmission Company. “The company benefits from the improved quality of their work.” Wei’s company has been collaborating with the Liu’an Vocational and Technical School.

Vocational Education Opens the Door to Entrepreneurship

Bao Jun is from a farmer’s family in Dangtu County of Anhui Province.  He first entered the Wuhu Mechanical and Engineering School and then the Ma’anshan Vocational and Technical School to study mechanical and electric engineering.  After graduation, he worked in the auto detailing sector. Now he is running his own auto detail shop.

“What I learned at school can be applied in my business.  When I started in the sector, I only earned about 2,500 - 3,000 yuan (about $400 - 480) a month. Now I am running my own business.  My auto detailing shop is growing 10 to 20 percent a year, and our annual revenue is about 1.5 million yuan (about $24,200).”

Bao Jun has kept in touch with his school. Recently, with help from his former teachers, he met with some students in school and talked about his business.  Now five students are working as interns in his auto detail shop.  ”After their internship, if they are like the sector, they are welcome to stay and work for us,” he said.

Bao Jun is very ambitious about his future. “My dream is to develop my brand into one of the well-known national brands,” he said.

Zhu Zhixu is also one of the entrepreneurs who started their own businesses after attending training. The 48-year-old Zhu is the owner of an excavation company. In 2012, he attended a training program on excavator operation run by the Taihu County Vocational and Technical School.

“Through lectures and simulator training, I learned how to operate and maintain an excavator.

After training, I became bolder, more confident, and registered an excavation company,” said Zhu.  

Soon Zhu leased and acquired a dozen excavators to provide services to construction projects in and around Taihu County.  “My business has thrived in recent years, and our annual revenue has been more than 1 million yuan since 2013,” said Zhu.  He has not only earned more money but also provided jobs for more than 20 people.

" My business has thrived in recent years, and our annual revenue has been more than 1 million yuan since 2013.  "

Zhu Zhixu

Excavation Company Owner

Providing Quality Training that Suits Different Needs

In addition to the short-term training courses attended by Zhang and Pan, the project also introduced medium-term and long-term training that suit the needs of rural migrants at different career stages.   

These training programs can help facilitate their access to urban labor markets and better employment opportunities. 

You Dandan, 25, was born in the countryside of Anhui. She did not want to be tied to farm work like her parents, and, as soon as she turned 15, she came to the city of Ma’anshan and attended a training program for tour guides in a vocational school.

But the challenge was apparent in the beginning – she had never seen the places that she was expected to introduce to tourists.  

Thanks to a “simulation training room” equipped by the project, You Dandan was able to see what Anhui’s most famous tourist attractions look like and “experience” travelling there.

“In such a simulated environment, I felt as if I were there,” she said. “It helped me build solid knowledge about how to introduce to people the wonders of travel, to inform them about what they see, and to show them the best of what there is to see and do.”

After three years at the school, things went just as she planned – she became a tour guide. One year after that, she stood out as the local TV station searched for a host for its new show for travel and got the job. 

Besides bringing in modern equipment and changing the whole learning experience, the project also centered on improving the quality of trainings provided, in innovative ways such as setting up Masters’ Studios where students can receive targeted trainings from “masters” in specific fields.

Zhen Yulin, one of the masters, runs an electrical engineering studio.

Master Zhen adopts an integrated learning-and-practice approach and “synchronizes” learning with evaluation. Students receive feedback on site and can make improvements instantly.  

He also invites technical experts in the field to be part-time trainers in his studio and exposes students to the industry’s most advanced technologies.

“The studio serves as a bridge between schools and enterprises, filling the gap between what a student learns at school and what his or her future employer looks for,” he said.

“The World Bank project not only provided equipment, but also brought new concepts, new methods and new ideas.  It has created more space for our school’s development,” said Liu Shufeng, Vice Principal of Ma’anshan Technical School, Anhui Province.

In Anhui Province, under the project, from 2009 to 2014,

  • 57,640 rural migrants received training from the ten schools supported by the project.
  • 98 percent of graduates obtained national occupational qualification certificates, an increase from 50 percent. 
  • The percentage of graduates entering employment within six months increased from 51 percent to 98.2 percent.  
  • The initial wage of graduates more than doubled from 1,430 yuan to 3,300 yuan a month.
  • The number of full-time students in school increased from about 8,000 to over 21,000.
  • The number of participants in short term training programs increased from 18,000 to over 60,000.
  • More than 300 graduates from project schools started their own business, creating more than 2,100 jobs.