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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 14:01 GMT
Retraining China's state workers
By Michael Innes
BBC News, Guangdong

Classes at Yuexiu centre, Guangzhou
New skills are needed to meet the changes in China's economy
With a final flourish, Dr Wang Waihong dishes out glistening choy sum, or Chinese flowering cabbage, and receives an enthusiastic round of applause from her classmates.

Made redundant from her job at a local hospital in China's southern province of Guangdong, she has enrolled in cookery classes at a vocational training centre to forge a new career.

The Yuexiu centre, in the provincial capital of Guangzhou, teaches 35 different courses to over 600 people.

Rooms of would-be hairdressers can be found next to flower-arranging classes and workshops for people learning about e-commerce.

China's economic reforms and rapid growth have made millionaires of some.

But for many others, especially those working in often inefficient state-owned enterprises, the opening up of the economy to greater competition has cost them their jobs.

A June 2006 report from the Asia Labour Bulletin estimated that several million state-owned-enterprise workers had been made redundant across China since the economy opened up.

"Officially the figure is small, but unofficially, China experts say it is more than 30m," the report said.

'Harmonious society'

China's shift away from low-skilled manufacturing has also meant that new skills are needed to cater for the demands of employers.

The deputy director of the centre, Zhang Huizhen, says she is doing all she can to help people like Dr Wang find alternative careers.

Classes at Yuexiu centre, Guangzhou
Most who leave the centre find work in their new profession

"The market has changed - they cannot survive without any skills, so it helps them adapt to the market transformation. Five years ago, there were lots of textile and metalwork factories. Now we focus on the service industry: for example, department stores, tourism and office work," she said.

Yuexiu district - where the number of officially registered unemployed is 60,000 - has spent over $1m to help people out of work to enrol in professional training courses.

The efforts seem to be paying off.

Four-fifths of those leaving the centre find work in their new profession after finishing their courses.

As a result, the province's official unemployment rate hovers around 3% - well below the country's national average.

In recent years, President Hu Jintao has made it his priority to create a "harmonious society" in China.

The last thing he and the ruling Communist Party wants is rumblings of discontent among the urban unemployed.

But for many in China's poorer provinces there is no economic safety net, and certainly no free vocational training for those without work.


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