The dilemma of technology
For forty years, China was the center for manufacturing for the world but in the past few years, its manufacturing began to slow down because of the advance in technology, especially automation and robotics, where some countries can now produce their own products at much lower costs than China. Since China’s economy is dependent on manufacturing and exports products, this trend could have a devastating effect that may lead to a major economic crisis.
One of the solutions the Chinese government advocates is to shift from manufacturing lower cost products to higher-value technological products to stay competitive. In January 2017, the government issued a five-year plan for education to set the new direction for all public school training to focus on science and technology. According to the plan, all public schools must adopt a new education curriculum to build a solid foundation for the future. The government also invested heavily into 42 universities to improve its quality education to be ranked “world-class” and expand its technological strengths so China can compete with more technologically advanced countries .
In order to implement the new training program, many public school teachers and college professors also have to go into retraining every summer so they can teach the new subjects. But the most difficult is the students ‘ learning attitude toward this new program. For many years, students are taught to memorize many things just to pass exams and get the degree but now they have to develop deep knowledge and skills to create innovations which may take much longer, even a generation to change the old habit.
However, the shift to the higher -value products is not so dramatic for college-educated students since many of them are familiar with technology. Their new program that focuses on science and technology is mostly welcomed by students and their family with the expectation that they will make more money and have a better job in the future. But a de-emphasis on manufacturing lower cost products has created a lot of resentments from labor workers who may not be able to keep their jobs. To them, technological products using robots and automation is a job killer and many of them cannot be trained due to their age and education level. An economist explains: “We know that we cannot rely on a low-cost competitive advantage and need to move to higher value manufacturing but we cannot retrain our lesser educated workers. You cannot send them back to school to learn computer when their education is only at the elementary level.”
With the global economy is expanding everywhere, new technology is entering the workplace at a faster pace and higher unemployment is rising fast, China now is at the crossroad where no one knows which way to turn. Advanced technologies such as robotics and automation will create new jobs, but they require specific skills that only the most educated people will have. Soon many manual labor workers will be out of work and when the high unemployment reach a level, a major economic crisis could happen.
- Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University