China-Africa vocational education offers more opportunities for locals, drives economic development in Africa
Igniting the African dream
Published: Sep 01, 2023 08:04 PM
Editor's Note:

Every workday at 6 pm, workers from different companies at the Eastern Industrial Park in Ethiopia join the crowd as they leave for home, with some of them chatting and laughing along the way and some carrying packed meals from the canteen, all looking energetic and showing no signs of fatigue.

Similar scenes can be seen in many African countries as more Chinese companies have stepped into Africa under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative over the past decade, creating employment opportunities for many young Africans. Moreover, China and African countries have also deepened cooperation on vocational education to enhance the competitiveness of local workers. 

During a recent visit to Ethiopia, Kenya, and some other African countries, Global Times reporters visited several vocational education institutes, where they talked to young people and found that their work at Chinese companies have provided them with a decent life as well as opportunities to pursuit their dreams. China-Africa cooperation on vocational education has not only greatly ignited the dreams of African youth but also encouraged new markets and industrial chains, helping to drive and diversify the African economy.

On August 24, while co-chairing the China-Africa Leaders' Dialogue in Johannesburg with South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Plan for China-Africa Cooperation on Talent Development. The program aims to train 500 principals and high-caliber teachers at vocational colleges every year, as well as train 10,000 technical personnel with both Chinese language and vocational skills.

More measures, including inviting 20,000 government officials and technicians from African countries to participate in workshops and seminars, will be taken by China to help with talent development in Africa, which analysts say will enrich China-Africa cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative and bring more tangible achievements to bilateral relations. 

Jiang Jiang, a teacher from the Luban Workshop in Addis Ababa, gives students a class on machine control. Photo: Courtesy of Jiang Jiang

Jiang Jiang, a teacher from the Luban Workshop in Addis Ababa, gives students a class on machine control. Photo: Courtesy of Jiang Jiang

Chance to pursue a dream 

Guto Abuga George, 29, and Newton Milimu, 33, work for a Chinese company in Kenya. Their jobs have offered them more opportunities in life.

The community where George and Milimu live is located in the northeast of Nairobi, 17 kilometers from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and adjacent to Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital, the largest public hospital in Nairobi. 

With hair salons, nail salons, appliance stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and clothing stores nearby, the aroma of fried fish filling the streets, and children playing and laughing, the community shows a lively atmosphere. 

George lives on the top floor of a 5-story apartment building in the community with a large terrace that offers a great view. The 10-square-meter living room is decorated with light yellow wallpaper, purple curtains, a sofa, a TV and a bookshelf. George's 10-month-old daughter sleeps in the bedroom next to the clean, safe, and comfortable room. 

George's apartment, which has water and electricity, is considered above average in the local area and his income not only covers the daily expenses of his family but also leaves some for savings. George did not disclose his specific income from the Chinese company, but his current rent is $120 per month. According to data released by the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, the average monthly salary in Kenya in January 2020 was $128.3.

George initially worked for a local company for three years before switching to his current Chinese company in 2021, where he is responsible for equipment operation and maintenance. "Working in a Chinese company not only provides a higher income but also allows me to improve my professional skills," George told the Global Times. 

"If I make a mistake at work, no one blames me. The leaders and colleagues will find ways to teach me how to improve. They are nurturing me," George said, noting that he quickly mastered advanced technology, learned how to work systematically, and his dream began to take shape. 

He hopes to start his own company between the age of 35 and 40, passing on the knowledge he has gained from the Chinese company to locals, working together to help Kenya and other African countries develop.

Just a few minutes' walk from George's home is the building where Milimu and his family live in an apartment on the top floor. Milimu told the Global Times that his family used to be very poor, but the company would pay for their medical expenses when someone in the family fell ill. Influenced by his Chinese colleagues, he started to make financial plans, and his life gradually improved.

The usual working hours are "8 am to 5 pm," but he doesn't mind working overtime because "more work, more money." "I love my job very much," Milimu said with a smile.

Milimu has not been to China yet, but besides communicating with Chinese colleagues and friends, he likes to read news about China online. He is fascinated by the new technologies emerging in China, such as mobile payments. After the completion of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative,  Milimu immediately went to experience it and described the train journey as "comfortable" and "convenient."

Milimu and George share the same dream. Milimu said that working in a Chinese company is more like a learning process, where he has mastered advanced technology and accumulated practical experience. He plans to start an engineering machinery company before the age of 40, helping more young Africans participate in China-African cooperation, changing their lives and the fate of their country.
Pride of the village

The story of George and Milimu is not an isolated case in Africa. In the eyes of many African youth, working in a Chinese company not only means stable high income, but also represents a bright future full of unlimited possibilities. The Africa Tech Challenge (ATC), a corporate social responsibility project initiated and organized by China Aviation Technology International Holdings Co Ltd (CATIC), is like a key that opens the door to the future, where everyone can become a George and Milimu if they win. 

ATC participants can improve their skills during the competition process, and most of them can obtain good job opportunities and stable income after the competition. Outstanding performers can even receive full scholarships to study in China and have the opportunity to be employed by Chinese companies.

A Chinese instructor guides participants in the Africa Tech Challenge on machine operation. Photo: Liu Xin/GT

A Chinese instructor guides participants in the Africa Tech Challenge on machine operation. Photo: Liu Xin/GT

Huang Xuchen, a senior project manager of the vocational education department of CATIC, said that in order to benefit more African youth, the participating countries of ATC have been expanding. Up to now, 1,292 participants from 10 African countries have received ATC skill training and entered the competition, among which 18 people have been sponsored by CATIC to study in China. 

Kiplagat Kenneth, a 29-year-old Kenyan, is among the "lucky ones." Kenneth and six other companions came from distant Africa to Zhejiang Electromechanical Vocational and Technical College in Hangzhou on May 8 and they will study at the college for three and a half years. After completing his studies in intelligent manufacturing, he will become an engineer.

Kenneth's hometown, which is well known as the "hometown of long-distance running," is a small town called Eldoret in northern Kenya, about 350 kilometers away from the capital Nairobi. He has two brothers and one sister and the financial situation of the family is not good. 

"I don't like long-distance running. I have been obsessed with machinery since I was a child and I want to become an engineer when I grow up… I didn't dare tell others about my dream when I was young," Kenneth said. "ATC is the only opportunity for me to realize my dream." 

The young man recalled that when the first Africa Tech Challenge was held in Kenya in 2014, it was highly praised. He participated in the competition in 2015, but the competition was more intense than he had imagined, and he quickly failed. 

"All young people in Africa want to win! Everyone wants to go to China!" said Kenneth.

Kenneth learned from the failure and devoted all his energy to prepare for the next year's competition, finally winning the championship in 2016. He first worked as an assistant engineer at a Chinese-funded enterprise in Kenya and received a scholarship to study in China this year.

"This makes me the pride of the whole village, and my family is proud of me!" said Kenneth, noting that in the eyes of local people, going to China means having a better future. He wants to realize his own dreams and create a better life for his family. 

In Kenneth's view, China has reached a world-leading level in high-tech and mechanical manufacturing after years of development and he can learn the whole process of designing and manufacturing large-scale machinery and equipment in China. 

Kenneth said that after completing his studies in China, he will return to Kenya and use the knowledge he will have mastered in China to build up his hometown.

'Everyone wants to win!'

This year's ATC is competitive. A total of 83 teams consisting of 332 teachers and students from nine countries - Kenya, Egypt, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe - were preparing for the race in the internship workshop on the campus of the Kenya University of Technology.

Faith Ariekot practices operating a machine. Photo: Liu Xin/GT

Faith Ariekot practices operating a machine. Photo: Liu Xin/GT

"Everyone wants to win!" Faith Ariekot told the Global Time. The 23-year-old young Ugandan  woman expressed her excitement as outstanding competitors can go to China to study and even be employed by Chinese companies. 

"Just thinking about this, the enthusiasm of all of us is ignited!" Ariekot said, adding that even if they don't achieve good results, they can still receive free training and the Chinese teachers are experienced and patient in helping them to master the technology. 

Ariekot said that in her home country Uganda, she has seen more and more Chinese companies participating in local construction in recent years. The many large-scale projects have promoted local employment and this also means that more high-quality laborers are needed in the future.

Tsatsi Itai, 40, is the coach of the Zimbabwe team. He told the Global Times that China has world-leading production capacity, and Chinese-made products are everywhere in Africa and even the world. 

Itai said that compared with Western companies such as those from Europe and the US, Chinese companies have established a deeper brotherhood with the Zimbabwean people, which local people attach great importance to. 

"If my students are lucky enough to study in China or even work at a Chinese company, I will feel extremely proud!" said Itai.

Huang told the Global Times that the ATC event involves industrial sectors such as mechanical processing, civil engineering, and mobile app development, which are necessary for industrial development. Through a large amount of practical training, it cultivates industrial workers who have received vocational and technical skills training, supporting the industrial development of Kenya and Africa. 

The Inner Mongolia Vocational College of Mechanical and Electrical Technology is among the Chinese vocational colleges and institutes that are deeply involved in vocational education projects in Africa. 

"African young people are very hardworking. They start practicing early in the morning, actively ask the teachers questions before class, and don't rest at noon. They know how rare this opportunity is," said Liang Zhenwei, a teacher at the college who went to Kenya in July to train local people.

Liang said that former participants gradually grow into team teachers in their respective countries, helping to train more talents locally, promoting the industrialization process of various African countries, creating more job opportunities, and forming a virtuous cycle. More and more people have a sense of achievement from this.

Teach a man to fish

In order to enhance working skills to get a job in local and foreign companies, many young African people also choose to undergo vocational education. 

When Global Times reporters visited the Luban Workshop at the Technical and Vocational Training Institute in Addis Ababa, two Ethiopian students were practicing on the operating table. Yonas Amsalu and Kalkidan, both 22 years old and recent graduates from the workshop, are about to start working at a Chinese company.

Yonas Amsalu has operation practice at the Luban Workshop. Photo: Yin Hao/GT

Yonas Amsalu has operation practice at the Luban Workshop. Photo: Yin Hao/GT

Yonas told the Global Times that the institute offers courses on subjects such as programmable controllers and mechatronics, but before the completion of the Luban Workshop, there was not enough practical training equipment in the institute, and they only had a theoretical understanding of the subjects without practical training.

In his junior year, Yonas started studying at the Luban Workshop in his spare time, usually from 6 pm to 9 pm, and finally integrated the knowledge on the blackboard into practice.

Jiang Jiang, the director of the Confucius Institute of Technical and Vocational Training Institute in Ethiopia and a teacher at the Luban Workshop, came to Ethiopia back in 2011 and witnessed the entire process of the development of BIR projects in Ethiopia. 

Jiang said that the Luban Workshop was jointly established by Tianjin University of Technology and Education and the Technical and Vocational Training Institute in Addis Ababa in 2011. Luban Workshop was established by the African Union headquarters as a high-quality skilled talent training center for all African countries.

At the Luban Workshop, Global Times reporters encountered Xue Guang, CEO of Ethiopia Dole Food Co Ltd, who came to send a thank-you letter to the workshop. 

He said that his company directly recruited seven students, including Yonas and Kalkidan, this year. These students have excellent personal qualities and have studied automation control. They were able to quickly adapt to the fully automated production line in the factory. If they become familiar with the production process, they can manage 20 to 30 local employees.

Xue said that in the past, Chinese companies mainly relied on "posting advertisements" to recruit workers but some of the local employees recruited this way did not meet job requirements. The students trained by the Luban Workshop not only have mastered technical skills but also have learned Chinese, making it easier for them to understand the thinking of Chinese companies. 

He said that hiring local talents trained by the Luban Workshop can improve work efficiency by at least 30 percent and he hopes to establish a long-term and stable cooperative relationship with the workshop.

Data shows that Chinese companies have created millions of job opportunities in Africa so far. Jiang told the Global Times that whether it is Chinese-funded companies or local companies, with the industrial upgrading and the improvement of industrial automation level in Ethiopia, the demand for professional talents is gradually increasing, and the Luban Workshop effectively fills this gap.

With the further deepening of China-Africa cooperation, Chinese-funded enterprises entering the African market and registering local companies have a more significant demonstration effect on African talents working in these companies, as it is equivalent to building up their own country, Yang Baorong, director of the division of economy at the China-Africa Institute, told the Global Times.

The dreams of young Africans have been ignited, Yang said, noting that African youth have witnessed China's technological progress and recognized China's development philosophy. Although the "teach a man to fish" approach only teaches individuals, as long as these individuals return to their own communities and demonstrate and spread new technologies, it will naturally drive more people to participate in the rapid development.

The strong sense of participation among young people indicates that Africa has initiated industrial upgrading and its economy has become vibrant. It is precisely under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative that there are opportunities for industrial docking, which ignites more dreams and desires among young people to create a better life, said Yang.