Zhejiang eyes future by investing in skills

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Liu Jun (left) sells her products via livestreaming together with a colleague in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. CHINA DAILY

Provincial plans to expand courses in line with national goal to increase vocational training

When she was forced to temporarily shut down her store early last month following the detection of a positive COVID-19 case in the Sijiqing clothing market in Hangzhou, capital of East China’s Zhejiang province, Zheng Lingli kept calm.

The 34-year-old Wenzhou native was worried a little, as the peak season for spring garments was approaching and she had recently replenished her stock. But she was also confident because she had faith in the authorities’ ability to manage the situation.

More importantly, she had a card up her sleeve.

“I can livestream,” she said.

Despite the disruptions caused by the two-week suspension that followed, Zheng carried on with business, broadcasting products with her employees via popular e-commerce and social media platforms such as Taobao. Monthly online sales at her store now stand at 1 million yuan ($156,980) even as COVID-19 continues to create difficulties.

Like Zheng, 33-year-old Liu Jun, who comes from neighboring Anhui province, also runs a garment business at the clothing market. She first forayed into livestreaming and short videos in July.

She currently makes about 2 million yuan in gross revenue through online sales.

Zheng and Liu are just two of several hundred to have benefited from a series of training courses on e-marketing and live commerce organized by the Administration for Market Regulation in Shangcheng district, Hangzhou, over the past year.

Indeed, Liu’s e-sales grew from zero to about 400,000 yuan within a month of taking the courses. “I’ve seen people sell products through livestreaming, and I thought it looked easy,” Liu said. “But when you try your hand at it, essential skills are needed-for example, how to tell your audience a relatable story about your clothing and brand.”

That is precisely what the training courses aim to do.

“We hope to help vendors gain not only hands-on skills, but also a long-term, self-learning capability,” said Zhang Hongxiu, head of the Hangzhou Tangcheng Vocational Training Center, which provides the training sessions.

Using a mix of real-life case studies and book learning on e-marketing, Zhang’s team of lecturers cover a wide range of topics, from how to apply proper makeup before livestreaming, to how to perform and interpret sales data analysis.

Nearly 50 percent of stores at the market currently sell through livestreaming, either by themselves or by employing livestreamers, according to Shen Jiandi, assistant president of the Sijiqing Clothing Group, which manages the Sijiqing clothing market. With over 2,000 stores, it is one of China’s largest and most influential clothing markets.

“Many lacked proper training until the Shangcheng Administration for Market Regulation began to organize e-marketing training courses, which cost practically nothing,” Shen said.

“They are quite popular with our sellers.”

Apart from livestream marketing, a variety of training programs are available for those who wish to hone their skills and boost employability, among them courses targeting catering, cooking and warehousing.

Programs such as these are not confined to Shangcheng or even Hangzhou, but are available all over Zhejiang.

Statistics from the Zhejiang Provincial Administration for Market Regulation show that the province has provided subsidized training to 695,300 people, including 567,900 from small and micro businesses and 127,400 from individual businesses, over the past three years.

Targeted training programs have been designed according to the needs of local industries. For example, the e-marketing and live commerce training is ideally suited to the clothing industry in Hangzhou and to its advanced digital development. Indeed, livestreaming is being increasingly adopted by businesses in the wake of the epidemic.

In Yuhuan county, Taizhou city, where the province’s auto parts and plumbing industries are concentrated, extensive training support has been offered to workers in these domains. Last year, the output of both sectors reached 47.01 billion and 43.16 billion yuan, respectively, up 12.83 and 16.82 percent year-on-year.

In early 2019, Zhejiang launched a three-year campaign to update the vocational skills of at least 300,000 employees of small and micro businesses, which was extended to individual businesses in 2020. Last year, it published the third round of its three-year growth plan for small and micro businesses.

“Zhejiang’s investment in training talent is essential to its economic development,” said Zhang Gangfeng, associate professor at Zhejiang University’s School of Management. “As a place noted for its private economy, it will significantly help reduce costs and boost market vitality.”

Figures from the province’s statistics bureau show that there were about 8.69 million market entities in Zhejiang at the end of December, including roughly 2.83 million small and micro businesses and 5.49 million individual businesses, accounting for 96 percent of all businesses.

Analysts believe that the investment will also help advance Zhejiang’s drive to become a demonstration zone for common prosperity.

“The key to common prosperity lies in expanding the size of the middle-income group and raising incomes among the low-income population,” said Mou Huikang, president of Hangzhou Wanxiang Polytechnic.

Providing training to individual, micro and small businesses is one crucial means of doing that, Mou said. “It contributes to more balanced development, stable employment and economic growth, and spurs the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation,” he said.

With some 30 percent of jobs in China produced by small and micro businesses, and over 90 percent of new jobs created by them, such businesses play an extremely important role in the country, said Yan Jingfeng, a researcher at Zhejiang Financial College.

Improving the vocational skills of workers in these businesses will help them secure employment, which in turn will raise the competitiveness and profitability of the businesses as well.

“The rising income level of employees that results can create a broad, firm basis for common prosperity in Zhejiang and nationwide,” Yan said.

Zhejiang’s push on training is part of a national campaign to “skill up”. Despite making rapid progress in recent years, highly skilled individuals are still much in demand. The mismatch in skills and unbalanced development are common factors.

To tackle these issues, China announced its first national plan this January to boost vocational skills training during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period. Under the plan, subsidies will be provided for vocational training that will benefit more than 75 million people.

For this year, the Zhejiang Provincial Administration for Market Regulation said it plans to train at least another 100,000 employees from small, micro and individual businesses. This will provide opportunities for people like Zheng and Liu, the clothing store owners, to pick up new skills. In the end, it is never too late to learn.