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FEATURE STORY June 3, 2020

Guangdong, China: Training a Skilled Workforce for Industrial Upgrade


  • Guangdong’s industrial upgrade calls for more high-skilled workers.
  • With World Bank support, three technical colleges in the province have carried out curriculum and pedagogical reforms, introduced innovations and improved capacities for the development of a skilled workforce.
  • School-industry partnerships and other innovative approaches help students develop skills that meet business needs and adapt to changes in the workplace.

China’s Guangdong Province was once dubbed the “world’s factory” producing clothing, shoes and toys for much of the world. Today, the province is moving from these low-cost and labor-intensive productions to modern manufacturing and service industries. This transition calls for more high-skilled industrial workers, and technical schools play a leading role in meeting this demand. Guangdong has 156 technical schools and colleges with more than 558,000 students. Most of the students come from rural households and enjoy free tuition.

 In Yunfu City, one of China’s major bases for stone industry, stone carving master Liang Jiankun has set up a studio at Yunfu Technicians’ College to help train students for the local pillar industry.

Liang, 48, has worked as a stone sculptor for more than 30 years. “I used to run my own factory and had a few apprentices as my business diverted much of my attention. Now at the college, I can focus on teaching and my art creation. I can train many more students,” he said.  Liang’s studio also serves as a national architectural stonemasonry training base for the WorldSkills Competition.

Skill master’s studios like Liang’s were set up as one of the activities supported by a World Bank-financed project in Guangdong approved in 2013. In three technicians’ colleges, the project has supported school-industry partnerships, instructional and management capacity building, the development of modular and competency-based training programs, and the upgrading of school facilities and equipment to strengthen the skills and employment prospects of urban and rural workers.

"In implementing the three-year plan, other schools can learn from the experience of these three project colleges and develop their own paths to reach the same goal of cultivating a high quality, high skilled workforce."
Li Cuiling
Director of the Guangdong Project Management Office

With project support, the technicians’ colleges have carried out curriculum and pedagogical reforms. Guangzhou Industry and Trade Technicians College created new majors in emerging fields, such as industrial robots, computer aided design and new energy vehicle maintenance. “This has helped us to better keep up with technology trends and changes caused by industrial restructuring,” said Vice Principal Zhang Lifang.

In addition to full-time programs, the College has developed a range of short-term training courses including on-the-job training, retraining for unemployed workers, skills enhancement training and lifelong training to cater to workers in all career stages.

To expose instructors to international best practices, the project financed study tours and training programs in Singapore and Australia and brought in national and international experts for teachers’ professional development, curriculum design and pedagogical reform. “This has enhanced our teachers’ capabilities,” said Vice Principal Luo Xiaoyuan of Guangdong Light Industry Technicians College.

The colleges have also formed partnerships with companies to understand their needs and jointly train students. Companies set up training rooms at the colleges, send their frontline technicians and managers as instructors, and offer internships that allow students to apply what they learn in class and get practical experience. Teachers also visit the companies during summer and winter vacations to gain firsthand knowledge about the industry and skill needs.

The partnership of Guangdong Light Industry Technicians College with Vanward Group, a leading water heater manufacturer in China, exemplifies this approach.  

 “We have developed tailor-made training courses for students, for example, training in corporate culture, mindset and professional competencies. For technical skills training, we use mainly job rotations,” said Lu Qin, Vanward’s Human Resources Manager.

“I worked on different tasks, such as assembly, material handling, and repairing,” said Wu Huande who did a one-month internship at Vanward. The most useful experience for him was interacting with veteran workers, he said.  

Through the internship program, companies also get a chance to attract top students. “From my internship, I found Vanward a good company and decided to join after my graduation,” said Xu Yixun, a Vanward employee who won a company-wide skills competition in June 2018.

At Guangzhou Industry and Trade Technicians College, school-industry partnerships take the form of a so-called dual training system.

Gao Xiaoqiu, a teacher involved in the dual system training with York Air Conditioner and Refrigerating Equipment Co., explained what it means: “The college and the company jointly recruit students, and over three years, work together to develop the teaching plan, human resources development plan, faculty and practical training, all the way through students’ graduation.”

“This is a win-win process.  Our company gets well-trained workers we want, while the college learns about our needs,” summarized York’s human resources manager, Liu Xiaosong.

The project has opened new horizons for the colleges, inspiring them to set higher goals and nourishing cross-border cooperation.

Guangdong Light Industry Technicians College hosts a joint mechanical-electrical training program in collaboration with Internationaler Bund, a German educational organization. After passing final exams, students receive certifications issued by HWK, the German Chamber of Crafts and Trades.

The Guangzhou Industry and Trade College has also taken its training programs abroad.  In 2017, the college signed a training cooperation agreement with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Education. Since then, it has trained more than 580 Bengali government officials, vocational school principals and teachers.

With improvements in school facilities, curriculum and teacher quality, Yunfu College was upgraded twice from a technical school to advanced technical school in 2015, and further to technical college in 2019.

Over the past five years, the three colleges have produced about 33,000 graduates with over 90% employment rate. In addition, the colleges provided on-the-job training for about 31,000 workers and short-term skills training programs for about 47,000 trainees. More than 80% of the short-term trainees received skills certification.

Guangdong’s three-year action plan on high quality technical education development (2019-2021) focuses on increasing capacity, improving quality and strengthening service delivery to better meet the needs of industrial development.

Li Cuiling, Director of the Guangdong Project Management Office, noted the three colleges have set good examples that can have demonstration effects.  “In implementing the three-year plan, other schools can learn from the experience of these three project colleges and develop their own paths to reach the same goal of cultivating a high quality, high skilled workforce,” she said.