Web Site Breaks New Ground for Chinas Migrant Workers

Sept. 28, 2006: Migrant workers from a construction site cross a Beijing street. Photo: AFP/Frederic J. Brown

HONG KONG—A new Web portal that aims to help China’s 150 million migrant workers find jobs, training, legal help and social activities is winning backing from officials anxious about social stability in a breakneck economy.

Hangzhou-based Xiao Kewen, 29, is an up-and-coming entrepreneur whose Web portal, Sinomen, has grown from a staff of just two people to more than 50 employees in less than a year.

“Most migrant workers come into the cities looking for work; they need to get a job, and we can provide support,” Xiao told RFA’s Mandarin service.

“Also we have lawyers so people can get legal help. One woman was helped by us to sort out her problems because her children had been injured. We also have various community services, like online dating,” he said.

Xiao said that when a person sets out from a rural community to find work in the big city, they only fulfill half the criteria for a viable migrant worker.

They must still undergo training and a period of acclimatization to life in the big city, including daily living skills and interpersonal skills.

Most migrant workers come into the cities looking for work. They need to get a job, and we can provide support.

He said the main problem facing China’s economic development as the country became a global workshop was a shortage of skilled labor, with only around 560,000 technically skilled workers available.

It is this skills gap that Sinomen seeks to bridge.

The economic powerhouses of China’s eastern seaboard are crying out for skilled labor, with an estimated shortfall of 10 million workers. Providing technical training for migrant workers is one of the key elements of Sinomen’s business plan.

Skilled labor shortage

“A lot of the factories in the coastal cities can’t find workers,” Xiao said. “It’s led to a situation in which the factories are following the workforce around, especially in the technologically skilled sector of the market where the shortage is particularly acute.”

“There’s a huge niche in the market here that I want to explore: how to train some of the migrant workforce so they can land themselves highly skilled technical jobs with these factories,” he added.

Sinomen has found plenty of interest among government officials keen to boost the development of poorer and more rural regions of China.

Deputy Director of the Advisory Committee for State Informatization Zhou Hongren told the Diyi Caijing Ribao or First Financial and Economic Daily that the market for services offered to the country’s highly mobile migrant worker population would be worth more than 100 million yuan annually if only 100 yuan were spent each year per migrant worker.

A recent survey discovered that 85 percent of migrant workers in China would be prepared to pay for services if they were reliable and effective in helping them to find work.

But Xiao said his revenues won’t rely on advertising, or on fees from migrant workers themselves. He hopes companies seeking to reach migrant workers as customers will pay for that access via Sinomen.

Officials from the Agriculture Ministry, the Ministry of Information Industry, and the Informatization Committee of the State Council all attended a forum in September run by Sinomen in the eastern city of Hangzhou to discuss the migrant worker market.

And the National Development and Reform Commission has already announced tax breaks and even state subsidies for enterprises providing services to migrant workers.

Xiao denies any personal connections within the top echelons of China’s leadership, saying that Sinomen is simply in step with Beijing’s policy of building “The New Countryside.”

“We are simply in harmony with the main theme of China’s social and economic development at the moment, and that’s why we’ve had such a lot of support from government officials in every department.”

Competition from government services

But he said he had run into problems with competition from government service providers who were unwilling to share the market with a private enterprise.

Sinomen’s growth is currently hampered by the low proportion of migrant workers with access to the Internet, as well. But he said that would change as the price of computers and Web access continued to fall.

“If you look online...you will see that there’s a large gap in the area of agriculture, exchange of agricultural goods and services, including training for China’s rural residents,” Xiao said.

“Sinomen has been fortunate in that it coincides very happily with government policy in the rural areas. It shares a core principle with government policy and that is that as soon as you sort out the question of the migrant worker population you will be in a position to build the New Countryside,” he said.

Xiao’s company has grown from just two people at the beginning of the year to around 50 employees today. That number is likely to double by the end of the year, he said.

“The company is growing very fast, and we are all very young. So it’s a headache figuring out how best to manage this company,” he said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Shi Shan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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