China: Improving Rural Migrants’ Employment Prospects through Skills Development

June 6, 2016

Implemented between 2009 and 2014 in three provinces in China, the Rural Migrant Skills Development and Employment Project provided skills training for some 522,628 young people, most of whom were from the rural areas, provided employment services for over 4.2 million job seekers, and enhanced the training capacities of 23 technical and vocational schools and training centers, opening up more and better employment opportunities for rural migrant workers that would improve their incomes and working conditions.


In 2006, there were over 130 million rural migrant workers in China. An estimated one in five rural workers was a migrant worker, and nearly one-half of the rural population had one or more family members being migrant workers. Migrant labor likely accounts for about one-third of total urban employment.

Rural migrant workers often filled the most menial and lowest paying jobs in urban labor markets, due to low educational and skill levels. They concentrated in occupations that exposed them to greater risk of work-related injury and illness. Few rural migrants were covered by social insurance programs, so any serious injury or illness imposed an immense burden on them and their families.

Working conditions were also a serious problem, with considerable evidence of basic employment rights abuses and delayed or unpaid wages and limited avenues opened for protection. Migrant workers generally lack knowledge of their legal rights. Information about job opportunities and living conditions in destination cities remained largely informal.


The Rural Migrant Skills Development and Employment Project focused on three major challenges that rural migrants generally face in cities: skills development, employment services, and worker protection. The project was designed to increase rural migrants’ access to better skills training opportunities and enhance provision of employment services.  To improve working conditions, the project aimed to improve coverage and terms and conditions of labor contracts, provide legal aid services to migrants, and develop implementation regulations for the labor arbitration law, with particular focus on exploring an expedited arbitration process for migrant workers.

The provinces of Anhui and Shandong and the Ningxia Autonomous Region were selected as project sites. Anhui and Ningxia are primarily senders of migrants to urban areas in other provinces, whereas Shandong is both a sender and a receiver. The project would cover 13 counties in 10 municipalities and prefectures, and finance the procurement of equipment and other investments in 23 technical vocational education and training schools, technical colleges, and training centers.

Project investments would also reach beyond the rural migrants in the three project provinces to include the policy studies influencing policies affecting all 260 million rural migrant workers today and many hundred million more migrant workers in the future, as well as the digital curriculum designed under the project, which was planned to be widely distributed online.

" 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. "

Zhang Jian

Electrician in a power company


Implemented between 2009 and 2014, the project achieved the following major results:

  • 447,577 students graduated from the project schools, with over 85 percent of them from rural areas.
  • 365,348 obtained national vocational qualification certificates, with 86.6 percent of them from rural areas.
  • 376,568 graduates found jobs within six months after graduation, increased by 47, 38, and 4 percentage point in the Anhui, Shandong and Ningxia. Over 80 percent of them found jobs related to their majors within six months of their graduation.
  • School-enterprise collaboration was established with a total of 3,096 enterprises, greatly improving the way schools design and provide training on relevant and practical skills. 308,697 graduates found jobs through the school enterprise collaboration.
  • 4,206,642 job seekers were served at the public employment service centers, with 70.7 percent of them being migrant workers.
  • Over 240,000 migrant workers participated in legal rights protection training; 1,793 activities were organized to promote legal rights protection for migrant workers, and a total of 1.73 million copies of legal rights protection promotion materials were distributed. 47,356 migrant workers received legal assistance in 2014.
  • Nine policy studies were conducted on topics ranging from employment promotion and vocational capacity building to labor relations and labor disputes to contribute to the Chinese government’s efforts to improve the conditions of rural migrant workers. 

" The biggest gain for me is that I learned labor laws and now know how to use laws to protect rural workers’ interests. "

Yang Baohu

Labor Broker

Bank Group Contribution

An IBRD loan of US$50 million was provided for the project. Moreover, the World Bank-funded China Economic Reform Implementation Project provided an additional US$300,000 to finance activities on migrant workers protection in Anhui and Ningxia.


The total project cost was about US$83 million, of which US$35 million was financed by the Government of China. The Dutch Trust Fund provided a grant of US$500,000 to fund activities on migrant worker protection at the central level and in Shandong.

Moving Forward

The Chinese government is keen to ensure the sustainability of the investments made by the project after project completion. The three provincial governments all issued guidelines to maintain equipment procured by the project, sustain the capacities built in project schools, and mobilize further resources to invest in rural migrant training. Ningxia Autonomous Region issued a policy to sustain the capacities built in project schools, mobilize further resources to invest in rural migrant training, and strengthen dissemination of achievements. Shandong People’s Government issued Three-Year Action Plans covering 2015 to 2017 for Rural Migrant Workers Skills Upgrade, for Rural Migrant Rights Protection, and for Public Services, which mirrors the components of the project. Anhui Province has issued policies to provide free tuition and financial aid to students from poor households studying nonagricultural programs. Anhui Province has also increased financial subsidies for investments in qualified training institutes for training equipment upgrades and for strengthening entrepreneurship training.


Bao Jun, Auto Detailing Shop Owner

“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).”

Zhu Zhixu, Excavation Company Owner

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

Zhang Jian, Electrician in a power company

“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.”

Ma Shijie, a villager in Guyuan county

“I like the training. It makes me feel upbeat. Some of my friends who worked as excavators could earn as much as 8,000 yuan a month. Before, I could only do odd jobs, like mixing cement or carrying bricks and earned 3,000 yuan a month at the most.”

Yang Baohu, Labor Broker

“The biggest gain for me is that I learned labor laws and now know how to use laws to protect rural workers’ interests.” 

young people got skills training.