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Migrant workers’ access to training expands since 1990s

Migrant worker education and training has yet to fit with current employment needs, entrepreneurship, and economic and social development. It is essential to further strengthen policy orientations which improve human capital quality. Photo: Lin Lin/PROVIDED TO CSST


In 2019, the total number of migrant workers in China exceeded 290 million, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Facing such a gigantic social group, tasks include transitioning demographic dividends into human capital dividends, and meeting migrant workers' rising needs for a better life, accentuating the importance of education and training. This article reviews the country's policy trajectories on educating and training migrant workers. Also, it looks forward to future undertakings and relevant strategies.
 
Policy trajectory
A series of policies are guidelines for migrant workers' education and training. In general, they have gone through the following three historical stages since the 1990s.
 
The first stage, the start-up period, ran between 1993 and 2000. In the beginning of the "migrant worker era," there was insufficient awareness of workers' rights and interests, so formal education and training policies for migrant workers were absent for a while. With the advent of the 1980s migrant labor wave, the country urgently needed to form a labor supply for constructing a socialist market economy while tackling the challenges brought by blind influx (laborers aimlessly flowing from rural areas to large cities). The circumstance urged decision-makers to provide stability by carrying out education and training. 
 
Analyzing the socialist market economy, the 1993 notice on labor system reform proposed extending vocational training networks to rural areas for the first time. In 1995, the policy to strengthen management of the migrant population explicitly required migrant worker education cementing knowledge of the legal system, ethics, urban life skills, and conducting skill training workshops. Fundamentally, these policies stemmed from the government's focus on a "city-centric" mindset. These policies follow the logic of prioritizing efficiency. Although they show a certain degree of utilitarianism and narrowness, they offer strong proof that early migrant workers' education and training have received policy support and institutional guarantees, and they have also laid the foundation for subsequent special policies.
 
The second stage lasted from 2001 to 2009, and featured remarkable development. Entering the new century, policies on migrant worker education and training developed by leaps and bounds as  industrialization and urbanization accelerated in the country. In 2001, the Ministry of Education officially enacted the first targeted policy for migrant worker education and training. Top-level design and national attention were finally brought to the field. In 2003, the State Council made decisions and deployments on the overall objectives, tasks, and measures for the transfer and training of surplus rural labor.
 
Related policies and measures emerged afterward. The 2007 "Employment Promotion Law of the People's Republic of China" emphasized vocational education and training, providing a legal guarantee for expanding the scale and expediting institutional development of migrant workers' education and training. Back then, governments highlighted people-oriented governance. Meanwhile, China's labor supply encountered the Lewis Turning Point, that is, the previously abundant supply of agricultural labor began to fall short. The situation steered policy-makers to prioritize efficiency while considering equality. 
 
Also, the impact of the international financial crisis and the economic downturn led to a wave of migrant workers' return to rural areas. In 2008 and 2009, multiple documents and training activities emphasized the importance of strengthening vocational education and training for migrant workers. They became a miracle cure for pacifying temporary employment pressure and social anxiety. 
 
In the period post 2010, a new era of people-centered transformation and innovative development took place. Migrant workers achieved remarkable progress through education and training, and they had higher expectations for policy formulation. They hoped the policy formulation focus would shift from quantity to quality, and from extensive models to precise models. 
 
The 2010 "Guiding Opinions of the General Office of the State Council on Further Improving the Training of Migrant Workers" was an important turning point in this regard, outlining a blueprint for quality-oriented policy and setting new requirements for training and expanding employment. Soon after that, the "Modern Vocational Education System Construction Plan (2014–2020)" officially included migrant workers in the modern vocational education system. It supported this relatively disadvantaged group's employment needs, reflecting an interest in the pursuit of equity. 
 
However, the employment space and structure changed as the country's economic development entered a new normal and "new-type urbanization" advanced. The employment pressure on migrant workers also changed, evolving from quantitative pressure to structural pressure. Therefore, migrant workers desperately needed to upgrade their skills to adapt to new changes in economic transformation and upgrades. Education and training began to shift from a "one-way supply" to "supply on demand." Precise targets, categorized policies, and service capabilities have become the main policy formulation theme during this period. Relevant policies echoed the major task of promoting migrant workers' career planning as well as national economic and social development, magnifying the logic of balancing efficiency and fairness.
 
Trends and strategies
Migrant worker education and training has yet to fit with current employment needs, entrepreneurship, and economic and social development. It is essential to further strengthen policy orientations which improve human capital quality. In the 21st century, education and training are a key strategy to accumulate migrant worker human capital. New changes will take place in the future economic development pattern and employment situation. The new-type urbanization and rural vitalization will accelerate the dual transformation of urban and rural areas. 
 
We should strive to accumulate the human capital dividends brought by migrant workers.  Adhering to people-centered values, policymakers should accurately study the adjustment trends of the industrial chain and supply chain both domestically and globally. Aiming at fuller and higher-quality employment, the precise connection of supply and demand in the structural reform of the supply side of diversified education and training will provide vitality for the high-quality development of the economy and labor market. 
 
Meanwhile, based on the need for dual transformation, policymakers should try to accurately predict future competition for human capital. To safeguard urban and modern industrial systems, they should retrain migrant workers, and offer vocational education which upgrades skills. Also, policymakers should support the return of migrant workers to rural regions, thus aiding rural vitalization and development while building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
 
The content and resources of migrant worker education and training are becoming more abundant. A long-term development mechanism should be optimized. Migrant worker education and training should include early-stage education on legal concepts and rules, adapting to urban life, as well as various forms of vocational and technical skills training, continuing education for better academic backgrounds, and entrepreneurship training. But as the times change, migrant workers will no longer remain a one-dimensional surplus labor force, a migrant population, or working class. It is easy to foresee that the existing supply of resources will eventually become insufficient for the demand. Therefore, we must make adequate preparations in advance, starting from further constructing rural elementary education resources, and establishing a complete system which covers long-term education, short-term training, and self-learning suitable for the future development needs of migrant workers.
 
Migrant worker education and training systems should improve collective strength and push for institutional innovation. The innovation involves multiple forces such as government, market, and society. However, the government has dominated this field for a long time, instigating mandatory changes to institutions. In the new era, it is more important to emphasize the participation of multiple forces so that institutional construction and operation will ensure the smooth development of migrant worker education and training.
 
Lastly, the policy system concerning migrant worker education and training is becoming increasingly complex. Evaluation of policy implementation effects deserves enormous attention. This is a significant measurement to tell whether a policy is accurate and effective, and it is also the basis for policy improvement, continuation, or termination. However, the evaluation of migrant worker education and training policies is currently inadequate in terms of research and practice. Therefore, we must improve assessment of policy effects and impacts. It is advisable to build an index system and evaluate from multiple dimensions, and run evaluation results back to relevant stakeholders, to identify, adjust, and improve policy deviations over time.
 
Wu Ying is from the School of Education of Soochow University.
 
Edited by MA YUHONG

 


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