Luban Workshops help build vocational skills and boost employment in host countries
By Lu Yan  ·  2021-01-21  ·   Source: NO.3 JANUARY 21, 2021

A trainee (front) learns how to operate a simulation driving console of a high-speed rail at the Luban Workshop at the Ayutthaya Technical College in Thailand on February 20, 2019 (XINHUA)

Diarra Boubacar is the first non-Chinese postdoctoral fellow in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The Malian was born into a family of doctors in 1964. With his passion for the complex and intriguing field of traditional medicine, Boubacar pursued his master's degree at Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, in Guangdong Province, south China, and doctoral degree in Chengdu University of TCM in Sichuan Province in southwest China, where he learned from masters.

After practicing TCM for years, Boubacar is dedicated to promoting TCM in Africa and to the world at large. He joined the Luban Workshop program in 2020 and has taught basic knowledge on TCM and acupuncture points to doctors at the Luban Workshop in Mali.

"The promotion of TCM to the world is for the benefit of African people and the people of Mali from the perspective of medical care," Boubacar told China Investment, adding that the Luban Workshop program has helped train African youths in vocational skills and broaden their horizons, playing an important role in promoting China-Africa vocational education cooperation.

Operation model

Launched in 2016, the Luban Workshop program aims to cultivate professional and technical personnel for Chinese firms outside of China while boosting local employment.

The program's name honors Lu Ban (507-440 B.C.), a renowned Chinese inventor, carpenter and engineer, also known as the father of carpentry of China, who exemplifies exquisite craftsmanship and creativity.

Professional disciplines taught in Luban Workshops include making industrial robots, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, high-speed train maintenance, Chinese cuisine, TCM and more. The disciplines are taught by professional teams from China and partner countries to meet the employment needs of each host country. Supporting teaching materials have been designed in different languages, including textbooks and multimedia courseware.

Workshops are generally established through one of three avenues: cooperation between Chinese vocational education institutions and their counterparts in partner countries, between Chinese companies overseas and local vocational education institutions, and between governments.

Some workshops also synergize with local companies and help them with personnel training. For instance, the Luban Workshop in Pakistan has signed strategic cooperation agreements with several local companies. The workshop helps train their technical staff, while these companies offer training bases for the workshop.

The workshops adopt China-proposed vocational education and model of EPIP: engineering, practice, innovation and project. The model combines theoretical and practical teaching in a real work situation. All courses are project-oriented, aiming at cultivating trainees' capacity for scientific inquiry and problem solving.

Zhao Yifei, a 20-year-old trainee from Thailand who studied electrical engineering at a Luban Workshop in her home country, got the opportunity to be an exchange student at Tianjin Bohai Vocational and Technical College in Tianjin, north China.

"I learned a lot at the Luban Workshop. With all the knowledge I gained here, I will be able to find a good job in Thailand, where high-quality personnel in electrical engineering are in great need," she told Xinhua News Agency.

To constantly improve the professionalism of Chinese tutors, China's higher educational institutions organize online and offline training classes for them. The training covers language learning, cross-cultural communication, and the history, culture and customs of the countries where the tutors work.

Tutors from partner vocational institutions can also attend customized training sessions in China, usually on teaching theories and practices.

Tianjin, the municipality that proposed the Luban Workshop program, has set up special funds for the program. Most funds have been invested in teaching equipment. The fund is mainly used for curriculum development and other relevant issues concerning intellectual property rights, equipment maintenance, and similar needs, according to a policy document on Luban Workshop project construction and fund management released by Tianjin educational and financial authorities in 2019.

The program has also been a platform for cultural exchanges, as Chinese tutors and tutors and trainees from partner countries have opportunities to pay field visits to educational institutions and companies, as well as participate in cultural, sports and art exhibitions and exchanges in each other's countries.

Hundreds of trainees have taken part in national technical competitions, further promoting mutual learning and promoting their understanding of China's technology, products and enterprises.

Sharing skills

Tianjin is pioneering vocational education reform and innovation. It has several vocational colleges. With the support of the Ministry of Education of China, the Tianjin Municipal Education Commission started a program feasibility study for the Luban Workshop program in 2015.

One year later, the first Luban Workshop outside of China was set up at the Ayutthaya Technical College in Thailand. The workshop was undertaken by the Tianjin Bohai Vocational Technical College and sponsored by Tianjin Bohai Chemical Industry Group Co. Ltd.

The majority of Thai students who have graduated from the Luban Workshop, except for nine students who went on to undergraduate colleges and universities, found employment after completing the program, according to the college.

Following the successful program in Thailand, other vocational technical colleges like the Tianjin Bohai Vocational Technical College have established over a dozen Luban Workshops in countries such as the UK, India, Indonesia and Pakistan, covering Asia, Europe and Africa.

With the establishment of the Luban Workshop at the Higher Polytechnic School of Antananarivo at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar in December 2020, China fulfilled its promise—given in September 2018—that 10 Luban Workshops would be established in Africa to provide vocational skills training for African youths, under the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

Abdulrasheed Na'Allah, Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, said at the opening ceremony of the Nigeria Luban Workshop in November 2020 that the workshop is "an example of people-to-people engagement at the grassroots which is capable of cementing friendship between Nigerian and Chinese people forever," as well as "an example of a true partnership that is recommended to nations sincerely eager to forge genuine friendship."

Nigeria's Education Minister Adamu Adamu said the role of the youth, being the targeted beneficiaries of the Luban Workshop, cannot be overemphasized and the program will duly contribute to the economic advancement of Nigeria. "This laudable initiative by the Chinese Government is commendable due to the technical and professional training for the good and development of our nation," he added.

"Skilled talents are in short supply in Africa. The Luban Workshop has enabled many South African youths to learn skills, find jobs, and play an important role in their positions. The more such workshops, the better," said Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology in South Africa. 

(Print Edition Title: Enhancing Vocational Skills)

Copyedited by Sean Connolly

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