Skilled Women Workers Hold Up Half the SkyReflections on 43rd World Skills Competition

April 22, 2016
By Liu BohongEditor: Rong Chen
Skilled Women Workers Hold Up Half the Sky
Liu Bohong, Professor at China Women's University [Women of China English Monthly]


The 43rd Worldskills Competition was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from August 11-16, 2015. It marked the third time that China participated in the event. The Chinese delegation posted its best results — four gold medals, six silver medals, three bronze medals and 12 Medals of Excellence — during the most recent event. China's representatives demonstrated their vigorous vitality and exquisite skills.

'Olympics of Skills'

Virtually every Chinese knows about the Olympic Games. However, in China, a country known as a global manufacturing base, few people know about the World Skills Competition, which is referred to as the "Olympics of Skills."

The Worldskills Competition is hosted by World Skills International. The host's predecessor was International Vocational Training Organization, which was established in 1950. World Skills International has 72 member states and regions, and its headquarters is in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Its purpose is to promote skills, improve the professional skills of youth and trainers, and strengthen cooperation and exchanges among member states and regions.

The biennial competition was first held in Spain. In 1946, after World War II, there was a great need for skilled workers and technical instructors in numerous countries. So, in 1947, the first national vocational training competition took place in Spain. In 1950, Spain held the first international vocational training competition, during which 12 skilled workers from Spain and Portugal competed. Since 1955, states and regions in Europe, Asia, America, Oceania and Africa have participated in the competition. It has gradually become the largest, highest-level and most-influential skills competition in the world.

Competitors come from member states and regions that have strong manufacturing and service sectors. Categories and skills criteria are adjusted to reflect the latest developments in technology, and the competition demonstrates how well skilled workers in member states and regions can master the latest technologies.

Competitors in the plane-repair category must be aged 25 or younger in the year of the competition. Contestants in other categories must 22 or younger. Some of the member states and regions have encouraged more youth to become skilled workers, and the members have improved their vocational education systems. When the competition was held in Finland, in 2005, only 30 percent of Finnish youth were studying in vocational schools. Now, the percentage is 69. Enhanced skills of Finnish youth and an improved vocational education system in Finland were among the legacies of the 2005 Worldskills Competition.

After tabulating the results of the past decade, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Austria and Brazil are the top five countries in the competition's gold-medal count.

First Gold Medals

To boost the development of skilled workers in China, a delegation of China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security attended the World Skills International General Assembly, in Jamaica, in October 2010. During the assembly, China was approved to join World Skills International. China became the 53rd member state.

An official with the ministry once said that where there were top-level skilled workers, there were first-rate products. As China is striving to grow into a powerful manufacturing base, it needs a large number of highly skilled workers. As a member state of the World Skills International, China learns from the experiences of and has technical exchanges with other countries. Also as a member, China advocates vocational training and nurtures a growing number of highly skilled workers. More importantly, China has strengthened both its vocational education system and skills training, in various categories, and it has encouraged the development of highly skilled professional workers.

In October 2011, the Chinese delegation debuted in the 41st Worldskills Competition, in London, the UK. The six-member delegation competed in six categories — CNC (computer numerical control) lathing, CNC milling, CAD (computer-aided design) machine design, welding, hairdressing and website design. China ranked second (in terms of average score) among the 51 delegations. The Chinese delegation won one silver medal and five Medals of Excellence.

China sent a 26-member delegation to the 42nd Worldskills Competition, in July 2013, in Leipzig, Germany. The members competed in 22 categories and won one silver medal, three bronze medals and 13 Medals of Excellence.

Some 1,209 contestants from 63 member states and regions attended the 43rd Worldskills Competition this year, and they competed in 50 categories under six industries, including manufacturing, handicrafts and service. It was the largest Worldskills Competition. Thirty-two Chinese contestants competed in 29 categories. China sent a technical support team, for the first time, to assist the contestants. The Chinese delegation won four gold medals, the first time China won gold medals in the competition.

Contestants of developed countries participated in more categories than those of China. Take the delegation of the Republic of Korea for example. They competed in all 50 categories. That suggests China lacks skilled workers.

According to statistics of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, China has 150 million skilled workers, and they account for 39 percent of urban employees and less than 19 percent of the total employees in China. China has 37.62 million senior skilled workers, who make up 25.2 percent of skilled workers, but less than 5 percent of the total employees in China.

China has achieved extensive economic growth in the past decades. In the current pattern of the international division of labor, China is mainly engaged in manufacturing links that involve low-end and medium-end processing. China's technical level is not high enough, and China lacks top-level skilled workers. There is still a long way to go for China to become a powerful state of technology.

Half the Sky

This year, Nie Feng, a student at Chongqing Wuyi Skilled Workers' School, won the gold medal in the hairdressing competition. Each competitor had to complete eight hairstyles — two compulsory, five created by the competitor and one determined by drawing lots. The 20-hour competition, held over four days, required intelligence, capability, imagination, creativity and physical strength. Nie broke the long-term grip of competitors from France and the Republic of Korea to win the gold medal.

Although Chinese women have achieved good results in the competition, women actually make up a very small proportion of China's delegation. The six-member delegation did not include a woman when China participated in the competition in 2011. Two years later, China sent a 26-member delegation, of which two members were women. This year, China's 32-member delegation included four women. That was disproportionate with the number of Chinese women who received a vocational education, and with the number of young women who found employment.

The categories in which Chinese compete generally reflect occupational segregation. Male contestants generally compete in categories such as welding, masonry, mechatronics, metal processing, printing skills, plane repairs, vehicle repairs, CAD machine design, car painting, website design, electric installation and mobile robots. Female contestants mainly compete in traditional categories, such as making candies and cakes, hairdressing and fashion design. That suggests occupational segregation still exists in both vocational education and the labor market in China.

This year, one of China's male contestants, Yang Jinlong, won the gold medal in car painting. The silver and bronze medals were won by women from other countries. Many female contestants win medals in male-dominated categories, and that reflects women's breakthrough and development in modern technology.

Women hold up half the sky in China. Under the planned economy, women broke restrictions and professional stereotypes to participate in the development of various sectors. I believe Chinese youth will also abandon the traditional thought that "those who do mental labor rule, and those who do manual labor are ruled." I also believe they will challenge professional stereotypes, improve their skills, continue their self-development and help build China into a powerful nation of technology.

(Source: Women of China English Monthly October 2015 Issue)

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