Developing nations like Ethiopia benefit from Chinese expertise

The 27 workshops established to date offer degrees to more than 6,100 students and temporary training programs for some 31,500 students.

Xu Wei and Yang Cheng

Xu Wei and Yang Cheng

China Daily


A university professor (right) teaches his students to use green energy facilities at the Luban Workshop in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. [KALIZHAN OSPANOV/XINHUA]

July 6, 2023

BEIJINGWorkshops offer wide range of professional training

Handiso Selamu Yishihak, who comes from Ethiopia, spent most of his time last year in a Chinese laboratory fine-tuning his skills in using industrial robots. He knows there are high expectations for him to transfer this expertise to his fellow citizens.

He enrolled at Tianjin University of Technology and Education in 2019 for training in intelligent manufacturing and automation, as part of programs launched by China to help African countries improve the skills of their workforces.

His desire to put what he learned into practice increased after the university established a Luban Workshop in Ethiopia in 2021. The workshop was part of the professional training programs offered by China’s vocational education colleges with the aim of sharing expertise.

“My country wants to cultivate well-skilled human capital for industry, especially in the private sector in Ethiopia and throughout East Africa. My mission is to be the best teacher returning home to pass on the knowledge I acquired in China,” he said.

Like many African nations, the vocational education system in Ethiopia is still in its infancy, and sharing experience from China is vital to enable the transfer of technologies to small and micro businesses, he added.

To date, Chinese colleges have established 11 Luban Workshops in African countries, offering a wide range of professional training and help for the younger generation in these nations to build up their professional skills.

Named after Lu Ban, an ancient Chinese woodcraft master, the workshops have risen in popularity in recent years to become a centerpiece of the drive by Beijing to promote international cooperation on vocational education.

Liu Bin, president of the Alliance for the Development of Luban Workshops, said a crucial factor behind the flourishing vocational training programs is that they seek to meet surging demand for improved local labor forces as Chinese businesses and products go global.

A total of 27 Luban Workshops have been established in 25 countries, most of them in the developing world. The programs provide training in vocational skills tailored to meet the demands of host countries.

Another crucial factor underpinning the popularity of the workshops is the deepening cooperation between China and countries taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. “Advancing the BRI gave rise to the need for Luban Workshops, which has also given impetus to the initiative,” Liu said.

Most of the workshops are located at vocational colleges in host countries, and they are usually established through partnerships between such colleges in China and their local counterparts. The Chinese institutions share their equipment, teaching methods and materials, and provide training for teachers.

Since the first Luban Workshop outside China was set up in Thailand in 2016, the 27 workshops established to date offer degrees to more than 6,100 students and temporary training programs for some 31,500 students. Liu said the workshops have also provided training for more than 4,000 teachers from host countries.

Students from Ethiopia receive training at Tianjin University of Technology and Education. LI RAN/XINHUA

Plans unveiled

Development of Luban Workshops, which was initiated by vocational colleges in Tianjin, accelerated in recent years after President Xi Jinping unveiled plans to expand such cooperation with countries from the developing world.

At the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the president announced that 10 Luban Workshops would be established in Africa to provide vocational skills training for young people. In September 2021, Xi said China would establish 10 of these workshops in member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Some African nations have already benefited from the vocational education cooperation programs.

In Djibouti, the first 24 students trained by a Luban Workshop in fields such as railway operations and rail engineering technology have become interns for the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway.

The workshop, the first of its kind launched by China in Africa, is expected to help train talent, which is in short supply, to ensure the maintenance and operations of the railway, a flagship BRI project built by Chinese construction companies.

In Rwanda, a Luban Workshop jointly established by China’s Jinhua Polytechnic and the Integrated Polytechnic Regional College Musanze, or IPRC Musanze, offers students training in skills such as telecommunications, smart manufacturing, electrical automation technology and e-commerce.

Xu Tengfei, head of the international exchanges department at Jinhua Polytechnic in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, said the workshop has offered more than 9,000 training sessions for students from the African nation.

“Development of e-commerce and the digital economy are the priorities for Rwanda’s Vision 2050. This is why we offer training in these two sectors,” Xu said.

Esdras Nshimyumuremyi, deputy principal of IPRC Musanze, said the training provided by the Luban Workshop is highly regarded, with participants expressing gratitude for the chance to enhance their skills.

“The training provides comprehensive knowledge, interactive sessions and valuable hands-on experience, contributing to participants’ confidence in applying their new skills to improve their work performance and support organizational growth,” he said.

A student learns railway engineering skills at the Luban Workshop in Ayutthaya, Thailand. WANG TENG/XINHUA

Sharing expertise

A crucial factor behind the popularity of Luban Workshops is the strong expertise from China’s vocational education system, based on the nation’s robust manufacturing and services sectors.

Executives from many Chinese vocational colleges said the majors established at Luban Workshops are those that the colleges have the strongest expertise in.

Xu said Jinhua’s booming e-commerce sector has long been a strong pillar for the college to strengthen its e-commerce majors.

“In cooperating with our counterparts in Rwanda, we share our best resources and try to cater to their urgent requirements for professional training,” he added.

Jinhua has topped Chinese cities in terms of its total trading volume with African countries, making the college a popular choice for graduate students from that continent, Xu said.

Nshimyumuremyi said the Chinese vocational system is highly regarded for its quality and development of practical skills, and its training programs are well-structured and cover a wide range of relevant topics employing modern teaching methods.

“The instructors and trainers are knowledgeable, experienced and dedicated, ensuring comprehensive and up-to-date training. Emphasizing hands-on learning, the system allows participants to gain practical experience and apply their skills in real-world scenarios,” he said.

“Overall, the Chinese vocational system effectively prepares individuals for the workforce, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in their chosen fields.”

Handiso Selamu Yishihak, the Ethiopian student, said Tianjin University of Technology and Education offered him the opportunity to put what he learned into practice, and to combine theoretical learning with the way in which machinery operates.

“China’s vocational training system is among the best in the world, because it is based on a very sound evaluation system,” he said.

A student installs a mechanical system at the Luban Workshop in Ayutthaya. WANG TENG/XINHUA

Greater potential

With advancement of the BRI, and China’s optimized COVID-19 policies, which led to a rebound in international travel, many industry insiders expect the full potential for developing more Luban Workshops to be unleashed.

Last month, Xi announced at the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, that Beijing would continue to set up more Luban Workshops in Central Asia, and help countries in this region develop high-caliber talent.

In October, Kazakhstan is set to become the second Central Asian nation to host a Luban Workshop, after Tajikistan.

An agreement signed last month between Tianjin Vocational Institute and East Kazakhstan Technical University will lead to the two institutions working toward opening a Luban Workshop in October. Both sides will work together to buy equipment, construct facilities and train faculty members.

Meng Zheng, deputy director of Tianjin Vocational Institute’s international exchanges department, said the workshop in Kazakhstan will prioritize training for local students on new energy vehicles and the internet of vehicles — areas that are short of skills in that country.

“We are seeking to use Chinese strengths and training in these fields to fill the gaps in Kazakhstan,” he said.

In Kyrgyzstan, Niva Yau, a resident researcher at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, the capital, wrote in a coauthored research note that more Luban Workshops could be established as Chinese companies in Central Asia increasingly employ locals.

With the adaptable nature of China’s overseas economic policy, the workshops could evolve well with the changing needs of emerging economies, she wrote.

“The key is that the Chinese government has been willing to listen to host countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, and marshal plans to transfer industrial skills to these economies,” she added.

A visitor to an expo in Tianjin tries a train-driving simulator at a Luban Workshop booth. TONG YU/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

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