Migrant workers put new spin on ‘working from home

Half of China’s industrial companies can’t find the workers they need, as young people refuse to work punishing hours for low wages.

Smartphone maker Vivo's factory in Chang'an, Dongguan. Photo by GE Zhenwei

Smartphone maker Vivo's factory in Chang'an, Dongguan. Photo by GE Zhenwei

By GE Zhenwei


After Spring Festival every year, a new batch of migrant workers breezes into Chang’an in the south of Dongguan, China’s digital manufacturing heartland. Once an exciting time of new opportunities and changing fortunes, this year, there are not enough workers to go around. The party, it seems, is over.

Recruiters lurk in every doorway and alley, with all kinds of tasty job offers, but few passers-by seem interested.

“Young people don’t want dull assembly line work. Older workers don’t have the stamina,” said JIANG Hui who has been recruiting in Chang’an for almost 30 years. There are more than 200 recruiting firms like hers in Chang’an, and a good worker is hard to find. By 2025, the industrial sector will need 620 million workers - only half of that demand will be met.

Almost half of all industrial companies in China complain of a labor shortage, and it is always the same complaint. Blame the youth. Young people no longer want to work punishing hours in factories for low wages.

For Jiang, it’s no big surprise. “I felt it back in 2008, and it is getting worse every year,” she said. “Their eyes are fixed on their phones. They have no plan to save money, and will not endure hardships.”

Another more reason is perhaps that many migrant workers have simply stopped migrating. Authorities have put a lot of money and effort into encouraging them to stay or return, home. Now the factories themselves are migrating. Many have left Guangdong for inland provinces. In Anhui for instance, more than a million workers who used to migrate stayed home in 2020.

Guangbao Electronics in Chang’an is looking for 3,200 workers, has only found 1,000. Wages in Chang’an start at around 5,000 yuan (US$800) and rarely exceed 8,000 yuan. Some factories offer bonuses of as much as three-month wages to returning workers.

“Many who worked for us before Spring Festival are not coming back this time,” the recruiter of Guangbao told Jiemian News. “They can find factories closer to home and the pay is not bad."