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Workers can transform businesses

IN her younger days, Wei Fengying enjoyed all the prestige of a "proletariat worker": a wage that was much higher than most government employees and 13 meetings with China's late leader Mao Zedong.

Wei, 76, was a household name in the 1950s and 1960s. A diligent worker at a machinery manufacturer in Shenyang, capital of the northeastern Liaoning Province, she was known as "Mao's worker" and her photo with Mao was published on the front page of the People's Daily.

But Wei feels her past glories - 177 production tips and techniques that increased the factory's output - are nothing compared with the younger generation of workers.

"Workers today must know much more than we did," she said. "We simply worked hard, but today's workers are more creative. Look at those workers who win national awards today."

Last month, 400 skilled workers from across China were awarded a subsidy by the State Council, China's Cabinet. The annual award was previously given only to professors, scholars and science workers.

Yang Jianhua, 56, was one of the workers to receive a 20,000 yuan (US$2,857) cash award. The fan-producer with a state company based in Shenyang was known to have improved efficiency by at least 20 times, with state-of-the-art assembly technology.

Yang is among the few lucky workers who are still at work after state enterprises in China's northeastern industrial belt fell on hard times starting in the 1980s.

Between 1990 and 2000 alone, about 1.78 million workers at state companies in the northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang lost their jobs.

Yang's son, Yang Yi, a 1999 graduate, was unable to secure a job until 2006. "For years, no manufacturing company recruited new employees and he could only deliver newspapers," Yang Jianhua said.

Yang Yi became a technical worker at his father's company in 2006, after years of China's endeavors to rejuvenate its northeastern "rust belt" and transform the area from a "global factory" to a "global research and development center."

"We are both confident in the career prospects of technical workers," said the 28-year-old. "In Shenyang alone, job openings for skilled workers are two for each worker."

Honors and opportunities, however, have also brought challenges to young workers, many of whom attend night school to study for a degree, or at least, to expand their expertise in optics, mechanics, electronics and computer science.

"Generally speaking, it's becoming more difficult to be a technical worker in China," said Wei, "but it's more exciting, too."

Yang Jianhua is a role model for his apprentices, most of whom are university graduates. He makes 6,000 yuan a month - twice the average income in Shenyang - and is addressed by many as "Professor Yang."


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