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Interns Fill Labor Gaps in China

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Wed Jan 30 2013

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At least eight million students aged between 16 to 18 are currently working on China’s assembly lines and workshops. This is not a case of child labor—these students are on internship. 

In a report by Reuters, China is facing a labor shortage in many of its factories and assembly lines that require large numbers of workers to operate. Local governments eager to please new investors lean on schools to meet any worker shortfall. That's what Yantai, in Shandong province, did in September when Foxconn had trouble filling Christmas orders for Nintendo Co Ltd Wii game consoles. Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, employs 1.2 million workers across China. About 2.7 percent of Foxconn's workforce in China comprises vocational students, the company said in October 2012. That works out to 32,400 teenagers. 

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Foxconn is not alone, according to the Reuters article. Many multinational corporations and suppliers to take advantage of the millions of teenage students from vocational and technical schools to help them out with production. These schools often include mandatory work experience, which means that students must take on work assignments to graduate. 

According to Reuters, “Such students made up such a large percentage of a Honda Motor plant in southern China that when they went on strike for better pay in 2010, they crippled Honda's production chain. A Honda spokeswoman said the ratio of students to regular employees had significantly declined, but would not give a figure.” 

Vocational interns are so sought after by companies because they can be paid less than full-time workers. Even if they pay the same base salary, employers can potentially save up to 40 percent per person because they need not pay for health insurance or social security benefits for student interns. 

The shortage of labor means companies often search far and wide for vocational schools to supply workers. And students are plentiful. Vocational school graduation has surged 26 percent in the last five years, to 6.6 million students in 2011. Parents whose children cannot compete in China's exam-driven high schools look to vocational schools. 

Read the complete Reuters article here.

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