In Kashgar, Xinjiang, how did vocational education help to increase the income of indigenous people?

(Meilin Zhao, Zhenyun Wang, Zile Liao, 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, at the meantime the level of economic development is relatively backward. According to the data of Xinjiang statistical yearbook, in 2009, the per capita income of Xinjiang could reach 1801 yuan, 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 by educates to obtain a certain occupation or a productive labor. According to the statistics of Kashgar Bureau of statistics, the unemployment rate in Kashgar in 2019 was 3.14%(2)

Among them, the government, enterprises and public welfare organizations have arried out a lot of vocational education.

The government plays an important role in building infrastructure in vocational education. The vocational education developed by the government is mainly to provide 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 and study for free (tuition and accommodation fees are exempted), and students from families who have difficulty 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. According to the employee in charge of a garment company in the industrial park, there are many interns from vocational schools in the industrial park. They not only have free accommodation, but also have corresponding internship subsidies.

A local student majoring in automobile repair, currently studying in a vocational high school in Kashgar said 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 divide into skill training and self-improvement training.

A manager of garment company at industrial factory said that the company offers two weeks of skill training for employees, two weeks prior to their employment. The skill training includes skill for using sewing machine, decorating clothes, packaging clothes, folding clothes, etc. Due to the skill training, most employees will know the skills they need to be working in the company. To ensure the quality of the product, the company will distribute a teacher to each group, in case anyone in the group need skill guidance. The teacher will supervise every employee in the group to do their work correctly, and if anyone has trouble doing the work, the teacher will provide specific sill teaching that employee needs. Under this training, employee’s working skill improved dramatically.

For self-development training, companies will offer Mandarin training, making it easier for employees to communicate. A manager of a garment company declares that the company has created Mandarin club, which offers Mandarin class for employees who don’t speak it well. So far, according to the manager, there are already 400 employees who have attended the Mandarin club, and their Mandarin 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 giving 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. By providing training for local women in handicraft making skills, on the one hand, local women are supported 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 visit and exchange with 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 organizing fun activities and small groups. The activities are focused on helping students to reduce stress at school and at home so that they can concentrate more on their studies and develop their teamwork and communication skills.

The program director told us, “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 made many achievements. 

Through vocational education at the work entry stage, employees are able to earn steady income.

At the Shenzhen-Kashgar industrial factory, the garment cooperation, which has more than 400 employees and export its product to more than 50 countries, provides a two-week basic work training. This helps the people who have no work experience or are former farmers to become professional employees who get steady monthly salaries.

Through further vocational education during work, many old employees have access to promotion opportunities, and thus their income would be increased.

According to the manager of the garment factory, employees at the factory will regularly attend work training, to ensure their well performance on work. The factory is under a principle of distribution according to work load, so better productivity on work can bring more salary to employees. 

Also, 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 choose 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 alleviating economic pressure of indigenous people. Vocational schools constructed by the government helps students to find future career directions, solving the employment problems of young people. NGOs provide guidance and supports for indigenous people’s career paths by in terms of basic and soft skills training.

With the continuous enhancement of vocational education resources and quality in Kashgar, its impact will become more significant.

“The factory have 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!” Said a worker from the industrial park.

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