The training boom that answers China’s clamour for carers

A flourishing industry is teaching locals how to turn a shortage of Chinese domestic helpers into a lucrative career path

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 9:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 10:48pm

Finding a good nanny in China is “harder than finding a good wife”, jokes Shanghai father Ma Hang.

He has changed domestic helpers five times since his son was born three years ago, trying to find a good match.

As China’s middle class evolves, the one-child policy relaxes and the proportion of elderly people increases, demand for nannies and domestic helpers is growing rapidly.

The current generation of new parents, born in the 1980s and ‘90s, aren’t afraid to splash out on hired help, unlike their more conservative parents.

But while an estimated 200,000 Filipinos work illegally as domestic helpers on the mainland, the Chinese government has officially kept its doors shut to domestic workers from any other country.

The supply of Chinese domestic helpers, especially professionally trained ones, lags far behind the strong demand. In Beijing, there’s a shortfall of over 200,000 staff, according to a commerce ministry report.

This need has transformed the profession into a popular and often lucrative career path among locals, and is contributing to a flourishing training industry.

After working for a major internet company for seven years and running an online platform for clothing retailers for a couple of years in Hangzhou, Liu Ziyue chose domestic helper training service as her new endeavour.

Now living in nearby Shanghai and a mother of two kids, the 36-year-old runs a school called Duole specialising in training professional carers to new mothers and infants.

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Every day, dozens of students attend classes on topics ranging from how to bathe a baby to how to help the new mother produce more breast milk. After several weeks of learning, they go to work for individual families, or in postnatal care centres.

“There’s growing demand for high-quality care for new mothers and newborn babies. Most of the new mothers today are post-1990s and 1980s, who often have good knowledge on postnatal care,” Liu said. “Most of the maids in the market today know even less than the mothers themselves, so there’s an increasing need for professional training for those helpers.”

The most popular type is maternal and child health nurses, followed by carers for the elderly, according to a recent industry report by the Ministry of Commerce, which divides domestic helpers into four groups. The other two categories are maids paid by the hour, who usually cook and clean, and others who may perform a variety of tasks.

Revenue of domestic helper suppliers on the mainland grew by 26 per cent last year from 2015, and the sector is expected to continue with a growth rate above 20 per cent in the coming years, said the annual report, released by the ministry in August.

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In major cities, a domestic worker makes at least 3,500 yuan (HK$4,148) a month, while one that specialises in taking care of new mothers and infants in the first month after the birth of a baby, or Yuesao, earns more than 10,000 yuan a month on average, the report said.

Like Liu’s, numerous training organisations providing short-term courses have emerged in the boom, while more systematic education in this field has also become available at some colleges and vocational schools in recent years.

More than 300 students majoring in domestic studies graduated from Shanghai Open University in June after three years’ study, becoming Shanghai’s first batch of domestic helpers with a college diploma, according to the university’s official website.

In Hefei, capital city of Anhui province, two colleges offer such courses, a local industry insider said. In Zhejiang, a Ningbo college took the lead in offering such courses back in 2013.

Xu Songyi, executive president of Santi Home Economics College in Hangzhou, said domestic workers are a sunrise industry in China as more people become rich enough to afford a helper at home.

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“In the meantime, the younger generations, those born in the 1980s and 1990s are getting married and having babies,” Xu said. “In comparison with their parents’ conservative consumption style, they are comfortable with spending money on nannies, especially now that the one-child policy is eased.”

An ageing society is also crying for more helpers to take care of its elderly, he said.

More than 16 per cent of China’s 1.38 billion people were age 60 or older as of last year, official data show.

Therefore, lots of well-educated, thoroughly trained domestic workers are needed to upgrade the industry, Xu said.

“The reality is that while customers have higher expectations for a maid’s skills and civilisation, most of the people holding the job are from the countryside, poorly educated and have bad living habits, as only these poverty-stricken people care to do this job, which is traditionally considered to be something inferior,” he said.

At present, 90 per cent of the mainland’s domestic workers have an education background of high school or even lower, according to the commerce ministry report.

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Liu, Duole’s founder, said, “many people enter the industry after realising that being a Yuesao makes good money, but they differ a lot in terms of professionalism. Some just spend a few hundred yuan and a couple of days to learn the skills before getting started with the job.”

At her school, students receive more than a month’s training and pay thousands of yuan, Liu said.

Zhang Rong, general manager of Hefei-based No. 1 House Keeper, a domestic helper trainer and supplier, said a typical course for child health care lasts 15 days, while the one for Yuesao takes a week.

She admits there are many unskilled workers, but says the industry is improving as people attach more importance to training to meet customers’ stricter requirements.

“Another sign is that more younger people are joining the industry,” Zhang said. “We have about 30 people holding a management position in our company, and most of them are between 25 and 30.

“In the past people tended to think that only those who couldn’t find a job would work as a domestic helper. Today the stereotype still exists but not as bad as before,” she said.

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Liu Meijuan, a 34-year-old woman who has been a domestic helper in Shanghai for five years, said studying and acquiring professional training are essential for a domestic worker who wants to increase her income.

After Liu passed the government’s exams and received a certificate as a professional child care nurse, her monthly salary rose to 7,000 yuan. Without such a certificate, the pay could have been much lower, she said.

“I think we should keep learning no matter what job we do,” she said. “I don’t consider myself as an inferior servant any more. It’s a respectful job, just like a teacher or a secretary.”