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Two nations are united in training goal;FE focus

British national vocational qualifications are helping China's modernisation as the economy shifts from state-owned industries to joint ventures with private enterprise.

Lin Yongsan, vice-minister of labour and social security, told a recent international conference in London that NVQs had become firmly established as an important component in China's policies for economic and human resources development.

The qualifications are part of China's drive to improve vocational training as thousands of workers laid off by state-owned industries such as mining and steel, need to change their skills.

The government set up the Occupational Skills Testing Authority (OSTA) in 1994 to introduce competence-based vocational qualifications broadly similar to the UK model.

Around 4,000 assessment centres have been set up with 40,000 assessors trained. So far about 3 million workers have been assessed.

More specifically, the British Council has piloted projects on the NVQ in business administration in a government body supplying staff to joint-venture companies and in a firm in Shenzhen, a designated economic zone just across the border from capitalist Hong Kong.

This sprawling city, a fishing village barely 10 years ago, is now home to high-rise, high-tech companies like Huawei Technologies, which is pioneering the NVQs for its secretarial staff.

The company, which manufactures telephone and communication systems, has around 8,000 staff of whom 85 per cent are graduates with an average age of 27.

He Yunfei, the training director, said the company was enthusiastic about the pilot scheme that involves 180 staff.

Consultants from a UK team including representatives from Nottingham and Huddersfield universities, had helped to tailor the course to suit staff. Adjustments were needed as Huawei's secretaries do more clerical work than their British counterparts.

The British team has worked closely with its counterparts from OSTA, led by deputy director Professor Chen Yu, who has a keen understanding of the NVQ system after making several visits to the UK.

Mr He thought NVQs helped to improve efficiency in a rapidly developing company with a big workload. They also gave employees a path for future development, a benchmark for assessment and a reference for promotion.

The company spends a lot of time and money on training, he explained. New employees get three weeks initial training to imbibe the Huawei culture and get to know the products. All workers have 50 hours a year in-service training to keep up with the latest technology.

The downside was that NVQs were time-consuming. But that should change once the pilot had properly got off the ground. Senior managers were keen to expand them to other departments, he added.

Rosalind Burford, of the British Council in Beijing, said the council had invited tenders from several awarding bodies such as the City and Guilds and the Royal Society of Arts to develop NVQs further in China with the approval of the Occupational Skills Testing Authority. There was a possibility of introducing a General National Vocational Qualification in business administration.

Frank Stoner, of the consultancy team, said China was keen to have international backing for vocational development and wanted a joint certification scheme.

But that might not be what the country needed. "In the long term they'll need to stand up for themselves," he said.

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