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Riding the New Tide
Industrial upgrading creates new occupations
By Li Xiaoyang  ·  2019-05-24  ·   Source: NO. 22 MAY 30, 2019

A smart robot carries packages to be distributed in a warehouse of Cainiao Logistics in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province, on November 8, 2018 (XINHUA)

When Wang Feifei worked at a warehouse of Cainiao Network, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group's logistics arm, he had to labor eight hours every day, carrying and sorting packages. But since last September, things have changed.

Wang now operates industrial robots in Cainiao's logistics park in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province in east China, freed from the drudgery of monotonous manual labor. In the smart logistics park, 700 robots can function simultaneously. The park uses technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) and is five times more efficient than traditional ones relying on human workforces.

"I used to work with over 20 colleagues to sort packages but we could handle maximum 6,000 orders per day. Now, a robot can deal with 700-800 orders per hour," he said.

Industrial robot system operator is one of the new occupations that have emerged amid the industrial restructuring in China. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS), the State Administration for Market Regulation and the National Bureau of Statistics recently announced 13 additions to the national occupational inventory. They also include AI technician, IoT technician, big data technician, cloud computing technician, electronic sports specialist, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot and agricultural manager.

According to Yang Weiguo, a professor at the Beijing-based Renmin University of China, new jobs are being created in the current era of digital economy due to the development of new industries and people's increasing demands.

"The official recognition of the new occupations will help improve the professionalism of related service and product providers," he said.

Embracing change

The catalogue of occupational classifications in China was published in 1999. It listed 1,838 job titles. From 2010, the list began to be revised with outdated occupations removed and new ones added.

The MOHRSS said revising the national occupational inventory is necessary since the focus of the economy is shifting from high-speed growth to high-quality development. As new occupations continue to emerge in various industries, regular releases on new occupations will boost employment, reform educational and training systems and improve labor market policies.

The birth of new occupations is also closely related to the changing division of labor and expanding markets. To keep pace with domestic economic and technological development, jobs requiring simple and repetitive work have been phased out, such as telephone and paging operators. In the meantime, new jobs promoted by emerging service industries such as ride-hail drivers and express delivery workers have come up.

New technologies have re-equipped traditional industries. With the rapid development of industrial robots, traditional fields such as vehicle manufacturing and casting are embracing automatic operation which can largely improve work efficiency. Work that may cause harm to humans such as spraying pesticide has been gradually taken over by drones.

Yang Lijun, a welder in a unit of Sany Heavy Industry Co. in Changsha, Hunan Province in central China, has seen the number of robots increase in the engineering machinery manufacturer's workshop. These welding robots are agile enough to complete tasks difficult for human workers.

"Now 90 percent of my work has been taken over by the robots. The advantage in using robots is that they can keep working efficiently and produce high-quality products, which is difficult for us, humans," Yang said.

As low-skill jobs fade away, job hunters need higher educational levels and abilities. Since a rising number of industrial robots have replaced human labor in factories, there is an increasing need for people to operate and maintain the robots. According to the MOHRSS, fields such as AI, the IoT, big data and cloud computing badly need technicians, given the wide application of these technologies.

As UAVs are widely used in plant protection, mapping, photography, supervision of farmland and logistics, the demand for UAV pilots has also grown rapidly.

Since agricultural communities such as farmers' cooperatives have burgeoned, agricultural managers are playing an increasingly bigger role in farming activities. Focusing on production, facilities, technologies as well as processing and sales of agricultural products, these managers need to have both professional knowledge and work experience on farms.

Tang Yiwu, an official with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, said agricultural managers can organize farmers to carry out massive production and improve yields.

"Improving the number of agricultural managers is important for vitalizing China's rural areas," he said.

The Chinese team competes with the Thai side in Arena of Valor, an e-sports demonstration event, at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, on August 26, 2018 (XINHUA)

The digital trend

The Report on the Work of the Government delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at this year's session of the National People's Congress, the national legislature, in March highlighted that state departments need to strengthen support for flexible employment and new kinds of jobs.

The rise of the digital economy has given a strong impetus to the employment scenario. According to a white paper released earlier this year, there were 191 million digital economy-related jobs in China in 2018, representing 24.6 percent of all jobs. Following the trend, occupations such as website designing and online marketing are becoming the new market craze. Becoming online store owners is also a top choice for many who want to be their own boss.

Due to changing concepts and lifestyles, some occupations that were once marginalized and unrecognized now stand out, indicating increasingly equal treatment for professionals from all walks of life. Most notably, e-sport, organized online competitions like video gaming, has been officially recognized as a competitive sport and shows great market potential, giving e-players greater opportunities.

According to China's Occupation Skill Testing Authority, e-sports professionals include players participating in tourneys, trainers, analysts providing data analyses for the industry and designers who design new games.

Data by Internet giant Tencent shows that the total size of the e-sports industry in China was worth some 8.4 billion yuan ($1.25 billion) in 2018. The figure is expected to reach 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) in 2020, more than doubling in two years.

However, Wang Fei, an operation and management staffer of an e-sports club in Shanghai, cautioned that e-sports jobs are not as easy as they may seem. Professional players often need to train for over 10 hours per day. For most of the year, they have to participate in various competitions under great pressure.

Individual interests and diverse needs have also generated novel occupations such as providing the service of organizing messy wardrobes and walking pets. The trend suggests that consumption upgrade is creating blue ocean markets.

"Internet-based new business modes will continue to generate more new occupations, promoting restructuring of service industries and improving the quality of people's life," Yang Weiguo, the professor, said.

Pilots operate drones to spread fertilizer on wheat fields in an agricultural demonstration zone in Gucheng County, north China's Hebei Province, on April 1 (XINHUA)

Better meeting demands

The new occupations have improved China's job market. For the rising number of Chinese graduates each year, the employment pressure will be offset by rising new opportunities. A report by education consultancy MyCOS last year said there were rising demands for majors such as information security, software engineering, network engineering, IoT engineering, digital media technologies and telecommunication face. The jobs carry high salaries and work satisfaction.

According to Cai Yuezhou, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the demand for professionals providing high-level and customized services such as psychological consultants and industrial designers will also continue to rise.

But though the new occupations bring more options for job seekers, the gap between demand and supply of talents needs to be narrowed. In the case of the e-sports industry, for instance, according to Tencent data in 2018, China had only 50,000 professional players while there were 260,000 vacancies. By 2020, it is estimated that around 500,000 players will be needed. Although some colleges have added e-sports majors, it remains to be seen how practical these courses are.

To better meet the market need for high-level and specialized talents, domestic colleges need to introduce or upgrade technical courses. "Since most of the 13 new occupations focus on the digital economy and AI, an urgent task for Chinese colleges and vocational schools is to add the courses into the current curricula," Deng Qingning, the principal of a vocational school in Guangdong Province, said.

Efforts should also be made to regulate the development of new occupations and better protect workers' rights and interests. As Fu Yifu, a researcher with the Suning Financial Research Institute, highlighted, measures to improve social security are needed to cushion the transformation of occupations. New occupations, which have different skill requirements, also make it necessary for individuals to explore their own professional areas and enhance personal skills.

Given the current gap between job supply and demand, some people engaged in traditional occupations may not yet be ready to embrace new occupations and worry about losing their jobs. As the use of modern technologies becomes more widespread, unskilled human labor forces are facing a great reshuffle. Those on the lower end of industrial chains will be gradually squeezed out.

But Yang Lijun doesn't fear that he will be replaced by robots. "Humans can create new things and perform complicated and personalized work. Although automation is a major trend in industrial manufacturing, human labor forces still have their edge," he asserted.

Cai foresees synergy between man and machine. Robots may partially replace humans and lead to unemployment in some areas but as technologies become more sophisticated, the future will see complementary cooperation between human forces and robots, he said.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to lixiaoyang@bjreview.com

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