'Made in China' gets German tuneup

Updated: 2015-07-27 07:43

By Tang Yue and Zhang Min in Tianjin and Liu Ce in Shenyang(China Daily)

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'Made in China' gets German tuneup
Students at a vocational school in Zouping, Shandong province, learn how to operate a lathe. Dong Naide / for China Daily

Joint training programs key to improving quality in manufacturing

Having worked as a wireman for 30 years, Guo Degang has mixed feelings toward the rising status and income of blue collar workers in the country.

On one hand, the 45-year-old, who earns about 3,000 yuan ($480) per month, regrets he "was not born at the right time". On the other hand, he is more than happy to expect his son, Guo Xu, who will graduate from vocational college next year, to have a much better life than his generation.

"I think it makes sense that they get a better job," the senior Guo said. "Back then, I didn't receive any formal training but only learned from the experienced workers in the factory. Now, they have teachers in school and the factory and get very comprehensive training."

He was referring to the dual vocational education program Guo Xu was enrolled in, which was provided by Tianjin Sino-German Vocational Technical College and Bosch Rexroth (Beijing) Hydraulic Co.

Originating in Germany in the late 19th century, the dual vocational training system has been widely regarded as the pillar of the manufacturing superpower. The three-year model, under which the students split their time between the classroom and the workplace, started taking root in recent years in China as the country aims to upgrade its manufacturing industry.

The Chinese government announced last year that it expected to increase the number of students receiving vocational education from 29.2 million to 38.3 million by 2020.

The determination was further strengthened when the State Council, China's Cabinet, unveiled the "Made in China 2025" plan in May, laying out strategies for switching from low-end manufacturing to more value-added production.

"No matter what kind of blueprint we come up with, the talent is always the most important factor," said Li Chaoxing, director of Tianjin Municipal Industry and Information Technology Commission.

Li said it is not only about the quantity but more about the quality of the vocational training. The German system has proved very effective in preparing students with both essential academic theories and the practical skills needed for high-level manufacturing.

The pioneers

The Tianjin Sino-Germany Vocational Education College, established in 1985, is one of the country's first initiatives to introduce foreign knowledge and expertise to domestic vocational education.

Having cooperated with foreign and domestic enterprises on several quasi-dual vocational training projects, the college, together with Bosch, started its first formal dual training program in 2011.

"The program was extremely popular. When the recruitment was announced, hundreds of students of different majors competed for about 30 places. I felt really lucky to win one spot," said Shi Jinxin, who enrolled in the program in 2012.

In the past three years, he traveled between the campus in Tianjin and the plant in Beijing every one or two months during the semester, putting the theories into practice right after learning them from the teachers and textbooks.

It took the college and the enterprise a great effort to come up with the curriculum, said Zhou Hong, general director of the School-Enterprise Cooperation Office at the college.

"It is not that each of the two parties do their own part separately. Instead, we have to sit down and figure out a lot of stuff together, making sure what is taught in the classroom speaks to what happens in the work plant," said Zhou.

The Shenyang Equipment Manufacturing Engineering School, in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province, has partnered with BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA) on the dual system since 2012.

"I have a sister around my age who had a higher score in the college entrance examination, but it took her a much longer time to find a job. I'm happy with my choice," said Wei Lianhong, 20, who graduated from the school last year and is now working in BBA.

Under the dual vocational education system, the students usually have a specially designed training center in addition to the production line where they can be observers.

"The knowledge is carried down from one generation to the next. It means that young apprentices learn from their experienced seniors and experts in their vocational families," said a spokesman for Volkswagen China of the dual vocational training system, another partner of the college in Tianjin on such programs.

In 2009, the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche brands joined forces with BMW and Daimler to launch the Sino-German Automotive Vocational Education program. The initiative now has around 25 training centers for a total of almost 1,000 Chinese apprentices in 20 cities.

Ma Qing, head of human resources in Siemens China, said the dual system benefits companies by allowing them to recruit fully prepared staff in the timeliest fashion.

"But most Chinese people think studying at a university is the top priority and appreciate knowledge much more than practical skills," she said.

The bottleneck

Huang Bo, vice-principal of the school in Shenyang, said local enterprises have not fully understood the benefit of such programs and are unwilling to invest in the trainers and training spaces and equipment.

"They would rather spend a lot of money hiring experienced staff from other companies than having long-term investment and return," he said.

Compared with the fiscal concerns, the lack of quality trainers is a bigger challenge for the Chinese companies.

'Made in China' gets German tuneup

"An experienced worker is not necessarily a very good trainer. It takes extra training and experience to guide the students. Under the dual system, the trainers are professional rather than ordinary workers," said Zhou.

Despite all the problems, a quasi-dual system, under which the business is involved at various levels, is still preferable to an education solely delivered by the college because it responds to the demands of the best in the market, Zhou said, adding that the college has such programs with Airbus and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

While 3,265 programs were created in vocational colleges in China last year, 5,269 others were dropped or stopped recruiting students, according to a recent report by the National Joint Conference of Vocational Technical College Presidents, a nongovernmental organization linking nearly 200 vocational colleges.

"Most of those had encountered fierce competition from similar programs, couldn't meet the demands of related sectors and had very low employment rates among their graduates, such as secretarial or legal affairs programs," the report said.

Like Ma, Zhou said the most important, and probably hardest, change to achieve is people's understanding of education and professions.

"Most Chinese people still consider being a public servant a much more decent and respectable job than being a blue collar worker," she said.

"When they start to realize all professions should be equally respected, we will not only see the better development of vocational education, but a more civilized society."

Shang Yue from Liaoning Daily contributed to this story.

Contact the writer at tangyue@chinadaily.com.cn


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