Changing vocational education echoes, empowers economic transformation

By huaxia(Xinhua) Updated: 2024-04-15

As a graduate of higher education, I had been quite curious about the study, life and employment prospects of students in China's vast number of vocational schools, especially when the job market is highly competitive.

An interview trip earlier this month with my colleague Niu Shaojie to central China's Henan Province, a populous province with one of the largest enrollment number of vocational education students across the country, refreshed my perception of the burgeoning talent community.

I was a little struck when we drove into the campus of Luohe Technician College in Henan's Luohe City, whose modern and stylish buildings, in our driver's half-jokingly words, can compare with some renowned universities.

At the first floor of the urban training center located in the campus, groups of students were studying the maintenance of cars, most of them being new energy vehicles.

The training in a room on the third floor is more state-of-the-art. Several students were optimizing programs for a mobile robot. There I met two graduate-turned teachers of the technician college, who won the gold medal in the Mobile Robotics contest of the World Skills Competition two years ago.

Tang Gaoyuan and Hou Kunpeng, though both in their early 20s and world champions, are very humble. "There is no ending of improvement of technical skills as the robotics technologies and application scenarios will keep evolving," Hou said.

Tang and Hou have become role models for many young students who seek to excel in a technician's career.

"I want to win honors like them," said Bai Jinke, who is preparing for this year's World Skills Competition. His elder brother is also a student at the college and now is working as an intern in an automobile company as part of the college's training program.

"We can see a growing public recognition of vocational education," said the college's president Ma Zhanxin, who told me that the enrollment of students this spring nearly doubled over one year ago.

The increasing interest on vocational education is also a result of the desirable employment prospects.

Ma said the students here don't have to worry about finding a job upon graduation. Many of the college's education programs are co-developed with potential employers, whose highly practical training well prepares the students with future real working scenarios.

Ma said that vocational schools have been adjusting their majors to cater to the changing needs of industrial development. The service robotics major was established in 2021 to serve the growing unmanned service scenarios.

The next day I visited Henan Chemical Technician College, a famous vocational school in Kaifeng City, once an ancient Chinese capital.

I was very impressed to learn that the school has a unique major whose graduates are mostly employed by China's leading universities like Peking University and research institutes such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The popular major is the operation techniques of electron microscope, which is widely used in the research work of cutting-edge science and industry such as materials science, life science, and semiconductor industry.

According to the college's president Yuan Qiaohong, the major originally planned to enroll 40 students this year, but due to the strong application and market demand, the enrollment was finally expanded to 100.

The strong demand for electron microscope technicians echoes China's increasing R&D investment in modern sciences.

In 2023, the total social R&D expenditure increased by 8.1 percent year-on-year, the ratio of R&D investment of GDP reached 2.64 percent, and the proportion of basic research investment among total R&D investment exceeded 6 percent for five consecutive years.

Before the interview trip, to be honest, I had some stereotypes of vocational education, which in my outdated opinion is only about teaching basic old-fashioned skills to make a living. But after the trip, I even tried to imagine what I would be like if I chose to master a technical profession.

The Chinese government has taken nurturing skilled personnel as an important way to promote the development and utilization of human resources, as well as a key measure to solve structural employment imbalances. At present, there are more than 200 million skilled workers in China, including more than 60 million highly-skilled professionals.

The growing community of skilled professionals plays an important role in facilitating China's innovation-driven economic development.

China has proposed to promote the establishment of a modern vocational education system, and by the end of 2025, the country's skilled professionals are expected to account for more than 30 percent of total employed population, with one third of the skilled personnel being highly-skilled talents.

I don't know what my life would be like if I attended a vocational college at that time, but I'm sure that I can enjoy a promising career as economic transformation offers plenty of opportunities to give full play to my talents.