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Chinese Migrant Workers 2.0
Jan 24, 2013 9:00 AM EST
Jason Ho, Manager, Advisory Services & CTI
In 2012, the number of migrant workers in China climbed to 250 million, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Newly migrated workers account for 58 percent of this statistic. In Guangdong, the manufacturing hub of China, the population of migrant workers is as high as 75 percent. While we know that urban-rural migration will continue, BSR research indicates that China will face severe labor shortages for both skilled and low-skilled workers due to the decrease in the overall labor pool, the rise of economic development, and an aging population. In addition, increasing expectations by the new generation of workers on career opportunities, financial security, and social inclusion are reshaping labor relations and social dialogue in China. The next generation of employees will also need a next generation of employers.
Over the past eight years, BSR’s China Training Institute has been working with multiple stakeholders, including our member companies, supplier factories, workers, government, and civil society, to build sustainable workplaces along the supply chain. These programs have successfully helped factories engage with workers on canteen management, foster worker committees, and improve labor and management communications.
Key lessons from our work with factories and workers reveal that companies with long-term vision and ownership need to:
- Change the mindset on how to interact with workers:There are many benefits to developing a human resources approach to the factory environment, rather than treating workers as one element of a production process. Human resources professionals focus on building an effective workforce that is stable and efficient and achieves longer-term goals for career development. This approach meets expectations of workers in their personal and work environments, and when done right, can include workers in the daily management of decision-making.
- Understand worker perspectives in a broader context: Considering employee perspectives on job satisfaction, organizational fairness, and job-related stress can help companies understand the impacts of work on the general mental health of workers, productivity, and turnover and retention rates.
- Evolve internal programs by using qualitative insights and quantitative data: Positive human resource management is key to fostering a participatory and respectful workplace. Workplaces should strive to understand the gaps in human resources management practices and existing strategies as articulated in policies, information systems, talent development, training accessibility, performance indicators, wage structures, and employee incentives. Employers should understand whether or not these elements are meeting the expectations of their workers.
- Develop a comprehensive tracking system to measure return on investment (ROI): A clear ROI can help sustain ongoing investments in workers. ROI in the workplace has shown that investing in workers can result in the reduction of worker turnover, absenteeism, and conflicts, and it can also increase worker morale. By clearly identifying ROI, worker well-being programs are better integrated into business decisions.
As China’s labor context is changing, forward-thinking employers are quickly upgrading their approach to managing the workplace—one that engages workers to understand employee needs. Some employers are even including workers in the management processes to foster a longer-term, more harmonious, and participatory workplace. We have arrived at the Chinese workplace 2.0.