China is working on reforming its policies to convert 250 million migrant workers into city residents.
But some non-governmental organisations are calling for even more to be done, to better assimilate the new residents into the cities.
Wu Deqin, 44, didn’t think she could become a computer teacher in Shanghai when she first moved to the city in 1993.
The Anhui native, who started out as a seamstress, had never touched a computer until about five years ago.
Now, not only is she well-versed in computing, she’s also a full-time IT trainer at a community training centre in Shanghai.
“Back then, I didn’t even know what’s a keyboard, didn’t recognise the English letters, the ‘Enter’ and ‘Shift’ keys. After training, I can get online, surf Baidu, send emails and communicate with my loved ones at home via internet video. I saved quite a lot on long-distance calls,” she said.
Ms Wu is one of some 30,000 migrant workers who have benefited from free skills upgrading courses offered by Shanghai Charity Foundation since year 2000.
The foundation began in 1996, training workers laid off from state-owned enterprises. It has since shifted its focus to providing courses to help migrant workers better assimilate into cities.
Mr Xu Liang, Deputy Director of Shanghai Charity Foundation, said: “150 million migrant workers enter the city each year. Some may return, but most choose to stay, especially the younger generation. So how the cities integrate them is something we have to work on. Besides technical skills, there are other unseen aspects. For example, their ideas and their attitude are just as important.”
The foundation says nine out of 10 migrant workers who have attend the centre’s courses are aged 40 and below, and are more likely to settle down in cities and not return home to the villages.
Huang Shengcai is one example. She settled in Shanghai after leaving Guangxi 10 years ago. And the mother, who is currently unemployed, has felt like an outsider.
That is until she took up computing and learned how to manage her finances – basic skills taken for granted by most urbanites but are key to surviving in the city for the migrant worker.
“Through the course, I learnt the importance of insurance and bought myself a policy to cover me in my older years. I don’t have relatives and friends here, so if I’m in some accident, what should I do? Who do I borrow from? I’ve also bought an education insurance plan for my child,” she said.
Her new-found independence has given her more confidence to survive in the city. But getting funding for such programmes has not been easy as the government would prefer to spend on technical training courses for migrant workers to get them gainfully employed.
So far, the foundation has only managed to provide such courses to some 20,000 migrant workers, a fraction of the millions who move into Shanghai every year seeking a better life.