Mar 25, 2021 06:31 PM

China Aims to Grow Tech-Savvy Workforce With New Vocational Training

Students from Chinese vocational colleges compete in a robotics competition in Tianjin on May 6, 2018. Photo: VCG
Students from Chinese vocational colleges compete in a robotics competition in Tianjin on May 6, 2018. Photo: VCG

China’s education ministry has updated a national list of vocational courses to include subjects like 5G, big data and cloud computing, as the government looks to equip the workforce with the necessary skills to transform the country into a technology superpower.

The new catalogue (link in Chinese) published Monday includes a total of 1,349 majors to be taught at the nation’s professional and technical colleges, a network of higher education institutions for people who do not attend universities.

“Vocational schools enroll students on the basis of this catalogue,” said Yu Jiyu, the head of Shandong Water Conservancy Vocational College, adding that each change to the list directly affects how the schools recruit students, arrange courses and reform their teaching methods.

China is attempting to change its economy from one that relies on low-end manufacturing to one that uses emerging technologies and produces higher-end goods, a transition that is likely to hinge on the country’s ability to train hundreds of millions of workers for the jobs of the future.

The catalogue focuses on dozens of sectors typically not covered by traditional universities, such as sports, transportation and hospitality.

It gives prominence to technology-based courses in fields like 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), integrated circuits, big data, cloud computing, and the internet of things, all of which also feature in national plans for future industrial development.

Several experts interviewed by Caixin said the list was notable for including a large number of “high-end” majors, particularly in sectors like AI, embedded technologies, renewable energy and cybersecurity.

“Every specialism in vocational education is moving toward high-end (sectors) and connecting to new industries, trends and technological positions,” said Wang Hui, the head of the Shenzhen Institute of Information Technology. “It’s forcing vocational schools to make comprehensive upgrades to course content and teaching resources.”

But others cautioned that vocational schools still need to vault significant hurdles to satisfy national demand for specialized workers.

Several school administrators told Caixin the catalogue mainly urges schools to update traditional courses, which will require direct and systematic adjustments to staff training plans, curriculum design, teaching materials and teaching methods.

Lu Xin, president of the Chinese Society for Technical and Vocational Education and a former vice minister of education, said China needed to teach vocational instructors more diversified, digitized, and integrated skills to realize the sector’s development.

“The main difficulty is changing teachers’ attitudes, which suffer from inertia,” said Yu, of the Shandong college. “Carrying out digital reforms to course majors has a huge impact on teachers’ attitudes. We need to greatly improve all aspects of their abilities.”

China’s vocational schools have long been derided as “low-end and low-quality” and inferior to full-fledged universities.

The country’s 14th Five-Year Plan released earlier this month outlines plans to make China technologically self-reliant and champions “innovation-driven” industrial development.

Several public disclosures since 2019 by China’s human resources ministry and other government bodies detail huge labor shortfalls in key technology sectors, including a gap of 5 million workers in the internet of things, 5 million in AI and 1.5 million in agricultural management.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh ( and editor Michael Bellart (

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