Why is it difficult for midwestern vocational schools to produce qualified industrial workers?

This article is from WeChat public number: Science and Industry Power (ID: guanchacaijing), by Li Yongping (columnist of the Observer and assistant researcher of Zhou Enlai School of Government and Management, Nankai University)

In recent years, the state has vigorously promoted the development of vocational education, providing vocational schools with a lot of resources and policy preferences, as well as giving vocational school students a lot of subsidies, and vocational school students basically do not have to pay tuition fees and have some living subsidies. However, vocational education in China is always facing an awkward situation.

On the one hand, there is a shortage of labor in many enterprises, especially skilled workers and senior technical workers; on the other hand, the evaluation of vocational education by the society is not good, and vocational school students have been labeled as various negative labels, such as vocational school is called “love school” by many parents, and vocational school students are often regarded as “second-rate” who do not do their jobs.

Why do vocational schools still face difficulties when the state attaches importance to them and enterprises have demands for them? Why do vocational schools – especially those in the central and western regions – still have difficulty in producing qualified industrial workers? The author talks about his research findings with your readers and friends.

Why is it difficult for midwestern vocational schools to produce qualified industrial workers?

One of the schools studied by the author

Vocational school development problems

First of all, there is a misalignment between the student training mode of secondary vocational schools and the market demand.

Vocational schools are supposed to focus on vocational skills training, but in reality, due to some difficulties faced by vocational schools themselves, the skills training for students in secondary schools is limited, which leads to students’ professional skills not being excellent and not too competitive in enterprises after graduation.

Generally speaking, there are two main forms of skills training in vocational schools.

One is school-enterprise cooperation.

School-enterprise cooperation seems to be a better mode of student training, which can combine the respective advantages of schools and enterprises to train students, but in practice, school-enterprise cooperation is often superficial, and there is no real sense of cooperation between schools and enterprises.

The real sense of school-enterprise cooperation actually requires enterprises to send some professional technicians to schools to teach and explain to students the front-line knowledge of enterprises, so that students can quickly become competent in specific jobs after entering enterprises. However, the research found that in many school-enterprise cooperation, enterprises never provide skills training to schools.

Currently, many school-enterprise partnerships are only for the temporary benefit of the school and the company. For schools, they have more advantages in enrollment with the signboard of school-enterprise cooperation; for enterprises, school-enterprise cooperation can solve the difficulties of seasonal labor shortage of enterprises and help schools to send labor force to enterprises directly.

Another kind of vocational school is to establish its own practical training base, but this requires a lot of capital and teachers.

Most schools do not have enough capital to establish a standardized practical training base for each major. Meanwhile, although many schools have built a practical training base, there is no guarantee in terms of teachers’ strength. School teachers are mainly cultural lecturers, and there are fewer teachers with professional practical skills. The salaries of teachers with professional skills are generally high, and most schools do not have enough resources to hire them.

At present, many secondary schools still focus on basic culture courses in student training, which not only makes student training unable to meet the needs of enterprises, but also makes culture courses unattractive to secondary students, further leading to students’ boredom.

Secondly, the professional settings of secondary vocational schools do not match with students’ employment wishes.

At present, most vocational schools are mainly specialized in secondary industries, that is, most students’ counterpart employment field is in first-line factories. However, post-95 and post-00 young people usually do not like to enter factories and prefer to work in service industry.

In the view of young people, the wages in factories are very low, and the management in factories is strict and not free. This is naturally not attractive to young people who like to live freely and have sufficient time to experience life while working.

Why is it difficult for midwestern vocational schools to produce qualified industrial workers?

At the same time, entering the factory is mainly engaged in assembly line operation, which has less opportunity to deal with people and cannot exercise their comprehensive ability; in contrast, the service industry is a profession of dealing with people, and young people can learn more knowledge in the process, and then make themselves more valuable.

Therefore, most of the vocational school students do not like their majors very much, which leads to the fact that the students generally have nothing to do with their majors in their employment choices in the end.

The mismatch between school majors and students’ career intentions not only makes students less motivated to study in vocational schools (because they expect they will not work in related industries in the future), but also further strengthens the social perception that vocational schools are useless, leading to further stigmatization of vocational schools.

Again, secondary schools “emphasize management but not education” for students, which leads to limited knowledge of students during vocational school.

In my research, I found that many secondary schools put most of their energy into safety and behavior management of students, while spending less energy on education and teaching.

This is related to the poor quality of students in secondary schools. Most of the students in secondary schools are of poor quality, especially in the central and western regions, and those who go to secondary schools are the students with the worst grades and poor behavior in junior high school.

The age of middle school students is about 15~18 years old, the students in this age are very energetic, one vocational school teacher said, “I feel that the students are in a battle state every day”, and the self-control ability of students in this age is relatively poor. When most of the students with bad behaviors gather in vocational schools, it is easy to produce a lot of problem behaviors, such as sleeping in class, playing cell phones and games, or fighting and brawling in school.

The many problematic behaviors of vocational school students make it necessary for schools to spend a lot of energy to manage students in order to maintain basic school order. In recent years some schools have even started to semi-military management of students.

For example, in a recent study in Tongren, Guizhou, we learned that many local vocational schools have hired ex-soldiers as instructors to manage the daily behavior of students. A local vocational school teacher said, “Students are so naughty that before the school had no instructors, students directly fought with knives in the school.

It is evident that vocational schools spend most of their energy on student management and only maintain a bottom-line education in terms of student education and teaching. As a result, in the eyes of the public, vocational schools only keep students in school, and the knowledge students learn in vocational schools is relatively limited.

Predicament of Vocational Schools in the Midwest

The dilemma of vocational school development in the Midwest is also related to its market location. The development of vocational schools in a region is closely related to the local industrial structure and industrial system.

A general situation of vocational school development in China is that vocational schools in the developed eastern region are better developed, and the proportion of students employed in related professions after graduation is higher, and the career development of vocational school students after entering enterprises is also better; compared with this, vocational schools in the central and western regions face more difficulties in development, and students are less likely to work in related industries after graduation, and the turnover rate of vocational school students is higher.

The difference between vocational schools in the east and the mid-west is not only due to the difference of school management philosophy and management style, but also due to the difference of location between the east and the mid-west, which leads to the different degree of association between vocational schools and enterprises, thus shaping the different perceptions and expectations of people in different regions about vocational schools.

The developed regions in the east have the advantage of industrial clusters, and the industrial chain is very deep and there are many enterprises, so the local vocational schools and enterprises can achieve deep cooperation.

Meanwhile, compared with the central and western regions, vocational school students in the developed eastern regions are more willing to work in enterprises. On the one hand, this is because there are many local enterprises and there is more space for them to choose; on the other hand, the industrial chain in the developed eastern region is relatively complete and the industrial structure is stronger, so the employees have clear promotion expectations after entering the enterprises and can gradually grow from ordinary workers to senior technical workers, which is a strong attraction for vocational school students.

In contrast, the industrial development in the central and western regions is limited, there are relatively few local enterprises, and the enterprises themselves face many development problems, so they often have no time to care about the real cooperation with vocational schools. As a result, vocational schools in the mid-west region usually do not offer much choice for students in terms of internship and practical training.

On the other hand, vocational school students in central and western regions are not very willing to work in enterprises and factories – they are far from the heart of the market and the information is relatively lagging behind. In their view, there is no difference between vocational school students and ordinary workers when they work in factories, and they do not see that many vocational school students in the eastern region can grow from ordinary workers to senior technical workers after graduation.

In addition, compared with the eastern region, it is more difficult for the vocational school graduates in the central and western regions to get promotion space after entering the factories.

One is because the vocational schools in the central and western regions are bottom-line education for students, and the professional knowledge of vocational school students is not excellent, so they can easily face the bottleneck of career development after entering the factories; the second is because vocational school students in the central and western regions usually choose to enter the factories in the eastern regions if they want to get good development, so they do not have the advantage of relationship capital of local workers, and they have to fight for everything by themselves.

On the other hand, vocational school students from the developed eastern region tend to have stronger professional skills and the advantage of local workers, and their social networks such as family can play an important role in their career development, so they are more likely to get promoted in factories and enterprises.

It can be seen that the difference of industrial development between eastern and central and western regions has a great influence on the development of local vocational schools.


In general, the industrial advantages of the developed eastern region make the local vocational schools develop better and students have wider employment prospects, thus forming positive feedback in the local society; the social opinion has relatively high evaluation of vocational schools and vocational students, which also makes local parents willing to send their children to vocational schools.

The industrial disadvantages of the central and western regions make the development of local vocational schools limited and the employment prospect of students worrying; while the local society generally has a poor evaluation of vocational schools and vocational students, and thinks that entering vocational schools is a waste of money and time, so many parents are reluctant to send their children to vocational schools.

In this sense, the difficulty of vocational schools in the central and western regions to produce qualified industrial workers is the result of the joint shaping of schools, students and the market.

Vocational skills training for vocational school students requires both improvements in the training model and student management practices of schools, as well as cooperation between enterprises and schools to train students together. Of course, enterprises are profit-oriented and they have their own risks and cannot do public welfare to schools, so whether and to what extent they can support the development of vocational schools may also depend on whether the government can provide some preferential measures for the enterprises concerned.

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