Are wages incentive enough to promote vocational education?

Shanghai’s Municipal Human Resources and Social Security Bureau recently released a report on the market wages of skilled workers. This is the second time since 2017 that the bureau releases a report aiming to create a societal atmosphere that advocates skills and respects skilled workers. We can see from the report that in Shanghai the salary of skilled workers is above the average wage level. Higher skill levels thereby correlate with higher salaries. Even compared to general management positions such as those of a secretary, a logistics manager or an office clerk, the salary of skilled workers is higher. The message that the report sends to parents and students alike is clear: skilled workers are facing a bright future, so are you considering to take on vocational education? While this shifts the attention to vocational education and to guiding people towards skilled professions the question arises whether it is enough to rely only on wages as incentives.

The current situation and dilemma of vocational education in China

According to data released by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, from 2008 to 2017, the number of public and private secondary vocational schools has decreased by 30% and 36%, respectively. Correspondingly, the number of students in secondary vocational schools shows a similar downward trend, with a 27% decline over the past five years. Looking at the composition of students in senior secondary schools in 2017, the 59.8%  proportion of high school students compares to a 36.9% in secondary vocational schools.

With regard to employment, China’s accelerating urbanization process and a large influx of rural laborers into cities have intensified the competition in the country’s job market. The expansion of enrolment in higher education institutions has furthermore increased the number of students in higher education. In turn, a growing number of highly educated people are facing an engagement in low-skilled jobs as their only option. Additionally, enterprises place more emphasis on academic qualifications, which results in the phenomenon of a “high consumption of talents.” This makes the employment situation for graduates of vocational schools increasingly precarious. If these are seen as external factors that exacerbate the employment situation of graduates of vocational schools, the internal factors such as the decline in the quality of students and the inadequacy of talent output are the main reasons for employment difficulties. [1]

Due to the Chinese public’s general distrust of vocational education and the fact that schools strive to produce high university enrolment rates it is mainly students unable to enter higher education who ‘choose’ vocational education. After entering a vocational school, the lack of further study opportunities furthermore discourages the vast majority of these students to continue their studies. Many of them ‘only’ achieve a lower-level diploma. [2] Moreover, a majority of vocational schools still focus on abstract theoretical learning. Therefore, students rarely have the opportunity to get the hands-on experience that is required by their future employers. [1]

Swiss model of vocational education

In countries such as Germany, Switzerland or Austria, vocational education and especially apprenticeships are an integral part of the education system. Other countries are showing increasing interest in learning about such educational models. Thus, let’s take a further look at the Swiss model of vocational education as a potential means of reference for its Chinese counterpart.

In Switzerland only 20%-30% of students attend high schools after compulsory education; more than two thirds enter vocational education and training. Such a proportion is said to enhance the quality

and academic level of higher education and it reduces the problem of highly educated people engaging in low-skilled jobs. In addition to the 12 general universities in the country, there are a number of Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS). UAS offer opportunities for further studies to students who have chosen the path of vocational education. Students of UAS can achieve bachelor or master’s degrees that are recognized the same way as those from general universities. Additionally, after apprenticeship students have the choice to work for a few years before continuing their studies or to study on a part-time basis.

Another important feature of the Swiss model is the combination of practice and theory, called the Dual Education System. In most cases, students divide their weeks into two to three workdays in a company and about two days of vocational school training. This way, they can develop their skills under real-world conditions that meet the requirements of companies. Yet, as vocational education students they gain work experience at an early stage, which reduces both the employment pressure during graduation season and the unemployment rate of young people. However, countries such as Italy and the UK have found it difficult to adapt the model [3]. Their situation differs from that of Switzerland where many top executives in big companies and well-known government figures have worked their way up from apprenticeship, which is something that undoubtedly increased the international reputation of country’s system.

Practice of Dual Education System in China

For more than three years, China has been practicing the Dual Education System in some pilot school projects.  Despite the increasing number of such pilot schools, scholars point out numerous problems attached to this. They indicate that, firstly, to make the system work schools and enterprises should play the main roles in the system’s implementation. Currently, this is not the case, as Chinese enterprises have no say in the decision-making and no direct benefits, which gives them a weak sense of participation. Secondly, due to an overall low level of industrial and commercial industries it is difficult to provide a large number of high-quality training positions. Thus, low-skilled assembly lines have become the main source of training positions. Combined with the problem of a low students’ quality, China’s vocational education reform has still a long way to go. [4]

JANZZ Technology has been cooperating with the public employment service departments of many countries and the human resources departments of major companies for a long time. Our products can effectively help the public employment department to predict trends in employment and skill development. Furthermore, they can respond to the education system’s curriculum design and skill training in order to match market demands and talent supplies.


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[1] Zhan, Qian. 2017. Qian Tan Zhong Guo Zhi Ye Jiao Yu De Xian Zhuang Yu Dui Ce. URL: [2018.10.15]

[2] Meng, Futao. 2018. Dang Qian Zhi Ye Jiao Yu Fa Zhan Cun Zai De Wen Ti Ji Jian Yi. URL:  [2018.10.15]

[3] Hao, Qian. 2017. Gong Jiang Jin Shen Zhi Xue Tu Zhi: Wei Sen Me “Xue Tu Zhi” Ke Yi Cheng Wei Guo Jia Jin Zheng Li. URL: [2018.10.15]

[4] Vocational Education Alliance. 2017. Zhi Ye Jiao Yu Zai Bu Dong Xian Dai Xue Tu Zhi. URL: [2018.10.15]

Will there be an outbreak of flexible staffing in China?

If you are a teacher or professor in Switzerland, you could also be having one of the following jobs: CEO or CFO in a bank, IT programmer in a start-up or Ontology supporter in an HR tech company. The last example is in fact the case for one of our employees at As a Chinese reader, you might be surprised: How is it possible for him to have so many jobs?

Many people in Switzerland are having part-time jobs, especially students and parents of young children. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), in 2017 the part-time employment rate in Switzerland was 26.7%, ranking second only after the Netherlands, which at 37.4 % recorded the highest proportion of part-time workers. Other countries that topped the list were Austria, Germany, Belgium, the UK and Sweden.[1] The statistics from Eurostat furthermore showed that people with higher education are likelier to have more than one job. [2]Asked about the advantages of such an arrangement, our colleague at indicates that the freedom of being able to switch between different roles and environments is a major plus. One reason that people can have this kind of “luxury working style” is that even in a 20%-workload job they are secured with social benefits. However, having more than one job may not always be voluntary. In some countries, you simply cannot earn enough money with only one job. For more information about underemployment and self-employment please look at our previous article:   


Shamrock Organization Theory

From the perspective of employers, having part-time positions will not only lower the cost but also keep the corporation agile. One of the earliest theories about part-time employment was introduced by Charles Handy. His so-called Shamrock Organization model states that there are three essential elements in a company structure. The first is called ‘professional core’ and consists of skilled workers, technicians and management. It is the area where long-term contracts should be placed. The second element pertains special services jobs that can be realized through cost-lowering outsourcing. Instead of receiving payment per hours of work, people in this group are paid per task. The third element is constituted by flexible jobs and includes contingent and part-time workers. This group of people is recruited only when necessary and only for as long as the company needs the work force. Additionally, Handy’s theory points out that in order to achieve work quality the leadership needs to ensure fairness.[3]

From the historical viewpoint

How, then, is the situation in China? To answer this question let’s take a look at how the country’s employment has developed over the last 30 years. Initially, companies interacted on a fairly direct basis with their employees, both with regard to signing contracts, and paying wages and social security. After the enactment of the Labour Contract Law of the People’s Republic of China in 2007, the practice of dispatching was introduced on a large scale. In 2010, over 60 million jobs were realized through dispatches. Due to both the policy control and liability risk that are associated with dispatches, outsourcing became more popular. This included, inter alia, HR outsourcing, business process outsourcing and product line outsourcing. To minimize the liability risk that comes with a third party, new forms of employment were recently developed, including part-time work. With the increasing spread of the Internet and mobile networks, several new and more complicated forms of employment are being developed. For example, there is employment under labor service relations, which is only protected by Civil and Commercial Affairs and Contract Law. [4]

A glance at the future

According to a survey by, a recruitment platform specializing in part-time jobs, China is still in its early stages of flexible staffing. However, from 2013 until 2017 it has been steadily increasing, with the average compound growth rate peaking over 20% between 2015 and 2017. It predicts that by 2025, China’s flexible employment industry will reach a revenue of 1.8 billion US dollar. It concludes that “currently, the scale of flexible employment ecology has gradually formed, and the transformation of China’s industrial structure is bringing about a fundamental change in the way of employment. The flexible employment mode will bring lower labor costs and higher productivity to the enterprise. China will enter the ‚outbreak‘ in the next decade, which will bring the rapid growth period of China’s human resources outsourcing service market of the past 20 years.” [5]

Chinese employees are seeking more freedom in their work-life balance, career women are yearning for more quality time with their kids – especially after the two-child policy –, university students are looking for practical experience for their future development and traditional nine-to-five routines are no longer the only working option. It appears therefore reasonable for the public employment service (PES) to promote the implementation of relevant policies and regulations that ensure both the legal protection and social benefits of flexible staffing.

At, we have been working with PES and HR departments of different labor markets and understand the complexities of modern working environments with their fast-changing and continuously new-emerging professions. We are happy to support PES and companies in coping with job seekers’ specific needs in order for them to fully realize their skills.

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[1] OECD. 2018. Part-time employment rate. URL: [2018.10.04]

[2] Eurostat. 2017. Employment Statistics. URL: [2018.10.04]

[3] Handy, Chales. (1989) The Age of Unreason. Broghton: Harvard Business School Press.

[4]Wie, Haozheng. 2018. Lin huo yong gong jiang cheng wei HR de xia yi ge feng kou. URL:  [2018.10.04]

[5] Jianzhimao. 2018. Wei lai shi nian, ling huo yong gong jiang jin ru bao fa qi. URL: [2018.10.04]