An ageing population and a growth of AI means that the need for skills-based vocational training is on the rise in China, writes Tom Pattinson
China’s rapidly ageing population brings about plenty of challenges and opportunities. As our report on elderly care shows there is a lot of scope for companies to help in the care sector and make the most of the gradual welfare reforms that will benefit the older generations.
This article also explores how pensions are being reformed to address the shrinking number of working adults that are contributing to the social security system. Whilst there are steps being taken in the right direction there is no denying that in 1993, there were five adults contributing for every one elderly person withdrawing from it, whilst projections suggest that there may be just 1.3 contributors for every elderly person by 2050.
The population is expected to peak at 1.44 billion in 2029 before shrinking to 1.36 billion in 2050, when four in 10 Chinese people will be over 60; whilst automation and the growth of AI will also contribute to a shrinking work force. All of this is forcing China to strategically reconsider its vocational, education and training (VET) system.
Although China’s major cities have some of the best academic education systems in the world, the growing shortage of workers has seen a growth in the promotion of vocational training. The number of university graduates has risen from 6 million in 2008 to over 20 million in 2018 but VET has traditionally been seen as a lower status qualification than a university degree. There are still few organised national programmes available to those looking to train in an industry, and few national standards that are recognised from province to province. There is a marked divide between academic education and vocational training, and the links that allow students to enter into industry after VET graduation are often lacking.
There are still few organised national programmes available to those looking to train in an industry, and few national standards that are recognised from province to province
Aware of these challenges, China is hosting the WorldSkills Shanghai event in 2021 which Vice Premier Hu Chunhau has said should emphasise the sharing of professional skills, particularly amongst China’s young people. The country has also been working to create better links with international partners – including those in the UK – to try to raise standards and bring certification into line.
The University of Salford is a fine example of a UK-China partnership that trains students for the workplace. As this article shows both the curriculum and visits from Salford’s fashion department staff help students in China, who then have advantages when they go on to work in China’s fashion industry. The relationship is, of course, mutually beneficial; it also provides UK students with access, network development opportunities and solid experience in China.
In a similar fashion, through its partnership with Youjiang Medical University, the New College Lanarkshire in Scotland is providing dental nursing certification and education programmes to Chinese students, creating much needed dental nurses in a sector where previously there was very little standardised certification.
In the short to mid-term, the nature of work around the globe is likely to see significant change. Whilst also true in China, local factors such as the dramatically ageing population and the opening up of previously closed areas will see a number of uniquely Chinese opportunities present themselves.