China: Improving Technical and Vocational Education to Meet the Demand for High-Skilled Workers

September 14, 2015

At technical/vocational schools in China, curriculums and training methods are outdated and barely keep pace with market needs. A project helps bring changes.

World Bank Group

In response to the growing demand for higher level technical and professional skills, Guangdong Province in China worked with the World Bank to improve the quality and relevance of its vocational and technical education by promoting competency-based training and strengthening the delivery system, directly benefiting more than 9,000 students, as well as school teachers and administrators. The lessons learned from implementing the project was disseminated and used to inform policy development.


Guangdong has been China’s manufacturing and export powerhouse with three decades of rapid economic growth. Migration from rural areas inside and outside the province had been a key to this growth by providing a steady supply of labor. These migrants filled jobs in construction and labor‐intensive assembly operations producing electronics, garments, toys, and shoes.

In recent years, however, the economy had moved away from older labor-intensive industries using large quantities of unskilled labor. The industrial structure shifted towards new knowledge-based industries such as electronic information, electrical and special purpose equipment, petroleum and chemicals, increasing the demand for skills.

While skills demand was strong, vocational and technical secondary schools face capacity constraints, with only 60 percent of applicants being enrolled. There were also issues of quality and relevance in these schools. Equipment for practice was limited, curricula were often outdated and disconnected from industry requirements, instructors lacked adequate industry experience and teaching skills, and managers lacked the skills needed for functioning in a rapidly changing economy. School-based reforms for quality and relevance were needed to support the transition to a more knowledge-based economy.


The Guangdong Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project was designed as a pilot to explore innovative approaches to reform of the technical and vocational education and training system in China.  The following approaches were adopted to address the challenges identified:

  • promoting and rolling out competence-based and demand-driven school reform;
  • capturing lessons by closely monitoring and evaluating the project progress and subsequently disseminate them to other provinces and countries; and
  • conducting surveys and data analysis for evidence-based management and policy development.


Implemented between 2009 and 2015, the project help upgraded three project schools and achieve the following specific results:  

  • The percentage of students that passed the skill certification exams increased to 90.37 percent by 2014, up from 70 percent in 2009 when the project started.
  • The percentage of graduates finding employment within six months increased from 86 percent in 2009 to over 98 percent by 2014. The relevance between jobs and majors in 2013 was 59 percent for technical college graduates and 46 percent for secondary technical school graduates, up from 48 percent and 45 percent respectively in 2010.
  • The average starting monthly salary showed an increase from RMB1,744 (about US$282) in 2009 to RMB2,625 (about US$424) in 2014.
  • At the national level, three policy studies themed, respectively, on financing of vocational education, quality improvement in curriculum development and school-industry collaboration, and long-term governance structure were produced, providing input for the preparation work for the 13th Five-Year-Plan. Moreover, results and lessons from the project were used to inform the development of two national-level guidelines related to technical education and training, and are expected to also inform the revision of China’s Vocational Education Law.
  • At the provincial level, the government’s directives on promoting technical education in Guangdong that drew on the project schools’ experience in competency-based curriculum development and implementation.
  • In addition, operational school-industry advisory bodies were put in place, with established guidelines and standard forms of contract for school-industry partnerships; teachers and administrators benefitted from a variety of training activities; competency-based training syllabus, curriculum standards and textbooks were developed, tested and rolled out; training space was expanded for students to practice their newly acquired skills; and school management information system was enhanced. 

" We are now encouraged to ‘learn by doing’ and ‘learn through trial and error’. We focus more on how to complete an assignment rather than just memorizing what teachers say in class.  "

He Xiaowen

Student at Guangdong Light Industry Secondary and Tertiary School

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank provided an IBRD loan of US$20 million in 2009, complemented by US$25.52 million in counterpart funding from the Guangdong Provincial Government, and US$0.4 +8million from the “Trust Fund for Bank-Korea Partnership on Poverty Reduction and Socio-Economic Development” to support the policy studies and impact evaluation. The Bank also brought its knowledge and experience in developing technical and vocational education and training projects in China and worldwide. This was the third such project supported by the World Bank in China, after the Vocational and Technical Education Project (1990-1996) and the Vocational Education Reform Project (1996-2002). 


The Central Government, Guangdong Provincial Government and the World Bank worked closely in the project process from identification to completion. The three national policy studies were carried out in a timely manner and findings were disseminated to inform policy discussions.

The government embraced competency-based skills development as the mode of instruction in technical and vocational schools across China, using the experiences and materials produced by this project as a model to guide other provinces.

Strong coordination between project schools and sharing of experiences led to strong ownership. Schools routinely shared experiences amongst each other, encouraging more teachers to participate in competency-based training and increasing their commitment to the reform process. Sharing of experiences with non-project schools also raised the latter’s interest in developing and applying competency based training beyond Guangdong province.

The school-industry collaboration was enhanced. Enterprises were willing to expand their partnership with schools in other areas such as in-service trainings and technical development.

Moving Forward

Competency-based and demand-driven technical and vocational education and training continues to be promoted through exchanges and workshops, the two provincial policy documents, the three national policy studies and different provincial directives, providing a strong foundation for expansion.

The ongoing World Bank-funded Guangdong Social Security Integration and Rural Worker Training Project and Xinjiang Vocational and Technical Education and Training Project both continue a number of activities that were piloted under this project, including the development and roll-out of competency-based training, and strengthening school-industry linkages. 


 Wei Bincheng, Student at Guangdong Urban Construction Secondary and Tertiary School

“In the past, teachers were leaders in class, and students were just listening to lectures. Now a new mode of learning has been introduced - teachers and students discuss and learn the subject together. Performance assessments used to be based on exam results alone. Now school puts more emphasis on our practical skills.”

He Xiaowen, Student at Guangdong Light Industry Secondary and Tertiary School

“We are now encouraged to ‘learn by doing’ and ‘learn through trial and error’. We focus more on how to complete an assignment rather than just memorizing what teachers say in class.” 

The project has benefited more than 9,000 students, as well as school teachers and administrators.