Better food delivery than assembly lines, China's young workers eschew manufacturing

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File Photo/Zhang Jian (NBD)

Mar. 11 (NBD) – The period after the Spring Festival is recruitment season for factories in China, but shortages of workforce are reported from several large-scale job fairs this year. A factory owner in Zhejiang Province, located in the Yangtze River Delta region, one of China's manufacturing hubs, said he might fail to recruit even one new worker, according to China Youth Daily.

Difficulties of hiring workers in the nation's manufacturing sector have made frequent headlines in recent years, and the situation is not getting any better. 

On one hand, the supply of labor force is declining. On the other hand, young workers are fleeing the assembly lines where their parents' generation had toiled for decades.

For the younger generation, delivering food is more attractive than a factory job.

Data shows 30 percent of blue-collar workers born after 1990 chose their first jobs in the service industry, which is 17 percent higher than the generation born a decade earlier.

Similarly, the proportion of new college graduates in 2017 who entered the manufacturing sector is 19.2 percent, a 6.6 percent decrease compared with that of 2013. 

In striking contrast, the booming life service sector attracted a large portion of the workforce. Services including ride-hailing, package delivery, and food delivery created 25 million job opportunities.

For example, food delivery giant Meituan-Dianping had 15,000 deliverers in 2015, yet by the fourth quarter of 2018, the number of its daily active deliverers reached 600,000. The average age of workers in food delivery is 26 to 30, and nearly 70 percent of them are under 35.

The invisible hand of the market plays a major role that leads young workers to turn their back on the assembly lines. On average, a courier of SF Express made 122,000 yuan (18,154.2 U.S. dollars) in 2017, while the average annual income for manufacturing workers was 64,000 yuan (9523.5 U.S. dollars).

But the decisions are more than money. China Youth Daily commented that the younger generation of workers grew up in the Internet age with better access to information, and basic material gaining is no longer satisfactory enough, since they have more psychological aspirations which cannot be fulfilled by monotonous factory jobs. Young deliverers enjoy flexible working hours and have more chance to engage with more people.

The trend rings alarming bells. Currently China is at a vital stage in transforming and upgrading the manufacturing sector, and how would transformation and upgrade happen when regular production is at risk for lack of workers, China Youth Daily questioned.

The news outlet suggests that factories should first of all raise salary and benefits to win back the younger generation. Though reports about how factories have difficulties recruiting workers for highly paid jobs do appear from time to time, China Youth Daily commented they are mostly media hypes, since the high wages can only be earned through long hours and weekend overtimes. Moreover, factories workers are poorly covered in terms of social insurances.

The market value of industrial workers, according to Guangming Daily, is significantly lowered. China's GDP per capita neared 10,000 U.S. dollars in 2018, reaching a threshold where a considerable number of industrial workers should enter the middle-income group, said the newspaper.

The tedious factory cycle of "work, eat, sleep, and repeat" needs to be changed as well. China Youth Daily suggests factories should find ways to enrich worker's after-work life, so that they could have socializing and entertainment activities.

Instead of complaining about the changing attitudes of the younger generation, factories should reflect on why young workers "abandoned" them and make amendments accordingly, China Youth Daily advised.

 

Email: limenglin@nbd.com.cn

Editor: Li Menglin