By Meilin Zhao, Zhenyun Wang, Zile Liao, and Ningzi Zhu
“Vocational education helped a lot of people to have jobs!”, a staff at the ShenKa Social Work Station claims.
Kashgar, located in the southwest of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is known to be the most western border city in China. Once, many local ethnic minorities had faced problems of difficult employment and low income. Compared with other regions in Xinjiang, Kashgar is relatively short on education and employment resources, with a lower level of economic development. According to the data of Xinjiang statistical yearbook, the per capita income of Xinjiang peaked upto 1801 yuan in 2009, whereas Kashgar’s was only 380 yuan. Furthermore, the employment rate of the three prefectures of Southern Xinjiang (including Kashgar region) is only 13.78%.1
In recent years, with the development of vocational education, the employment rate and personal economic income in Kashgar, Xinjiang have increased significantly. Vocational education refers to the education of vocational knowledge, skills and professional ethics required to obtain a certain occupation or a productive labor. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in Kashgar in 2019 was 3.14% according to the Kashgar Bureau of statistics.2
Among them, the government, enterprises and public welfare organizations have provided a bulk of vocational education.
The government plays an important role in building the vocational education infrastructure. It mainly provides education subsidies and free vocational skills training opportunities for students in Vocational Schools (including vocational junior high schools, vocational high schools, vocational universities and adult vocational schools).
In Kashgar, students who fail to enter ordinary high schools can join vocational and technical schools for free (tuition and accommodation fees are exempted), and students from financially struggling families can enjoy the national “rain and dew plan” subsidy. (Note: since 2015, the Poverty Alleviation Office of the State Council has implemented the “rain and dew plan” in poor areas to support children of rural poor families to participate in vocational education and enjoy poverty alleviation student aid.3)
Other than that, the government provides some free vocational skills-training opportunities for students who are currently in vocational schools. An employee in charge of a garment company in the industrial park claims that there are many interns from vocational schools working in the area. They not only have free accommodation, but also corresponding internship subsidies.
A local student majoring in automobile repair, currently studying in a vocational high school in Kashgar says that after graduation, he could successfully find a job in the maintenance factory through the internship opportunities provided by his school. Furthermore, students who perform well in the school are also eligible to sign up with the internship company in advance to become regular employees.
Thus, relatively speaking, students in vocational schools can find suitable jobs through the existing employment resources of the school.
Enterprises play the role of skill trainer in vocational education.
During employment, enterprises will provide trainings for their employees. The trainings are divided into skill training and self-improvement training.
A manager of garment company at industrial factory stated that the company offers two weeks of skill training for employees prior to their employment. The training includes developing skills for using the sewing machine, and decorating, packaging, and folding clothes, etc. This training equips most employees with the skills they need to be working in the company. To ensure the quality of the product, the company will assign a teacher to each group, in case anyone in the group requires direct guidance. The teacher will supervise every employee in the group to do their work correctly, and if anyone encounters issues, the teacher will provide specific skill teaching that the employee needs. Under this training, employees’ vocational skills improved dramatically.
For self-development and easier communication, companies offer Mandarin training. A manager of a garment company declares that the company has created a Mandarin club, which offers Mandarin classes for employees who don’t speak the language well. So far, according to the manager, there are already 400 employees who have attended the Mandarin club and have achieved the level of normal communication.
Workers in the industrial factory working hard.
Public benefit organizations also provide educational opportunities for minorities to learn and strengthen vocational skills.
ShenKa Social Work Station is one of the most influential social work organizations in Kashgar. In 2019, the social work station launched the “Donkey Baby” project to help marginalized farmers improve their economic income by supplying them donkeys. At the beginning of the project, the staff of the social work station provided vocational training to the farmers on various topics such as animal breeding techniques, animal vaccination, fattening techniques and baby donkey care, and also organized visits to professional breeding companies to learn related techniques.
In addition, in Tashi County, the social work station conducted handicraft workshops for local women. On one hand, the training develops local women’s handicraft making skills, supporting them to participate in social work and improve their economic income. On the other hand, the social work station also takes women from Tashian County to exchange-visits to other regions where the weaving industry is well developed, so that they can learn the skills and expand their horizons at the same time.
In addition, PSOs provide an important complement to soft skills training in the vocational education system.
According to the information provided by the ShenKa social work station, they provide skills training in the form of organized fun activities in small groups. The activities are focused on helping students reduce stress at school and home to enhance concentration on their studies and develop their teamwork and communication skills.
The program director adds, “Developing communication skills allows them to be more active and express themselves better, therefore making them better at finding jobs later.” There are also many directions for group training, with each session having a different theme, such as emotional management, time management, self-confidence development, etc.
So far, works on the vocational education in Kashgar have gained many achievements.
Through vocational education at the work entry stage, employees are able to earn steady income.
The Shenzhen-Kashgar industrial factory, a garment cooperation which has more than 400 employees and exports its product to more than 50 countries, provides a two-week basic work training. This helps those with no prior work experience or former farmers to become professional employees who receive steady monthly salaries.
Through further vocational education during work, many old employees have access to promotion opportunities, which in turn helps increase their income.
According to the manager of the garment factory, employees at the factory will regularly attend work training to ensure optimal performance at work. The factory is under a principle of distribution according to work load, so better workplace productivity can raise employees’ salaries.
Moreover, at the social workstation, current social workers will receive regular vocational training in order to improve their working ability. The social workstation will invite special supervisors to provide various kinds of vocational training according to workers’ needs.
Through vocational education in schools, many young students obtained working opportunities, and earned decent salaries.
A Kashgar local resident being interviewed is a current freshman at a vocational college in Xinjiang. She chooses to attend vocational college because her family doesn’t have much income. “The skills I learned at vocational college can help me to get a job,” she says. She is now studying computer science in college and is planning to take the national Computer Examination Level 2. With this learning experience and the certificates, it is not difficult to find a matched job in the city. She says receiving vocational education provides a guarantee for her future income and livelihood.
Ethnic culture exchange activity organized by the social workstation
One of the donkey donated by the “Donkey Baby” program
In sum, vocational education is essential to alleviate economic pressure of indigenous people. Vocational schools constructed by the government help students navigate future career directions, solving the employment problems of young people. NGOs provide guidance and support for indigenous people’s career paths through basic and soft skills training.
With the continuous enhancement of training resources and quality in Kashgar, vocational education’s impact will become more significant.
“The factory has taught me many things, my clothes making skills are getting better and better. I’ll even have a salary raise at the end of the year!” exclaims a worker from the industrial park.