China’s vocational schools offer golf caddie training for the would-be upwardly mobile

A vocational school in the southern province of Hunan is offering middle and high school graduates the chance to forge a new career, and mix with the rich and powerful, by training as a golf caddie.

The caddie course at the Hunan Falcon Technical College (湖南猎鹰技工学校) costs 5,800 yuan a year, plus 500 yuan per semester for training materials, a total of at least 20,400 yuan for three years. The first two years are spent at the school and the third year as an intern, presumably at a golf course somewhere in the province.

It seems clear that the only reason students would consider this course is not for the job itself but because they think it will put them in close proximity to the businessmen, government officials and influential investors who regularly prowl the country’s ever expanding network of golf courses and country clubs.

The training offered in Hunan is strictly limited to being a caddie (literally ball boy, 球童, in Chinese): club selection, golf etiquette, golf cart driving and helping out in the clubhouse, all the skills you might reasonable expect to learn within a few months, or at most a year, as an apprentice or trainee employed at a golf course.

The mere existence of the caddie course is an indication of just how reluctant Chinese employers now are to offer any kind training to new employees. Instead they increasingly rely on the country’s vocational schools and technical colleges to supply them with a steady supply of interns and qualified new employees.

Well over a million students graduated from China’s more than 3,000 vocational schools in 2009, and CLB is currently undertaking preliminary research to better understand the role and influence of vocational schools in China’s job market, in particular the relationship schools have with employers and the restrictions that places on students. The results of our research will be published in full later in the year.

When we contacted the Hunan school, we were told that students have to sign a contract with the school and the employer on enrolment, detailing the terms and conditions of their training. The school claimed that interns would get a monthly salary of around 2,000 yuan in their third year work placement and that they could switch employers if they did not like the work. However, given wage levels in Hunan is difficult to believe interns would be paid at such a high rate.

Moreover, anecdotal evidence from other schools suggests that students have very little say in which employer they are assigned to. First year students at a vocational school in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, for example, were reportedly forced to spend their summers interning at a Foxconn factory in Shandong. If they refused, their diploma would be withheld, the report said.
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