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China speeds up cultivation of digital professionals

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A student at Fuzhou Software Technology Vocational College, southeast China's Fujian province experience virtual reality. (Photo by Wang Wangwang/People's Daily Online)
A student at Fuzhou Software Technology Vocational College, southeast China's Fujian province experience virtual reality. (Photo by Wang Wangwang/People's Daily Online)

By Ye Zi, 

Talent is the cornerstone of progress in each cutting-edge technology, new model, and emerging industry. From robot engineers ensuring machines can understand and perform tasks correctly, to intelligent manufacturing technicians setting up automated production lines, and digital twin engineers turning massive factories into “virtual plants,” a steady supply of talents is essential.

In April, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, along with eight other government departments, unveiled a three-year plan to foster talents to drive the growth of the Chinese digital economy.

The initiative aims to accelerate the cultivation of digital expertise to support the digital economy. It focuses on the needs of the digital industry and relevant industries, aiming to increase the supply of skilled digital professionals from 2024 to 2026.

Zhang Hongchao, a doctoral student majoring in microelectronics and solid state electronics at Beihang University, will become a component developer of a microelectronics company after graduation this summer.

“I think integrated circuit companies are facing a substantial shortage of digital talents, especially those with rich experience,” Zhang told People’s Daily. Since October 2021, he has been working for a Beijing-based memory chip enterprise as an intern while engaging in research projects at the university, gaining abundant experience. That’s why he has been “booked” by the company long before his graduation.

In the job market, there is a growing demand for new professions such as digital managers, business data analysts, smart building administrators, blockchain application operators, internet marketers, and digital twin application technicians. Experienced digital professionals are highly sought after by companies.

China’s emergence as one of the fastest-growing digital economies in the world contributes to this surging demand. The scale of China’s digital economy has grown to 50.2 trillion yuan (about 7.25 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2022, and the share of the digital economy in the country’s GDP has risen to 41.5 percent. 

According to the latest report on the development of Digital China released by the National Data Administration, the value-added output of core industries in the digital economy reached 10 percent of China’s total gross domestic product in 2023. 

The rapidly developing digital economy in China has led to a steady demand for digital talents. It is estimated that a gap requiring about 25 million to 30 million digitalization professionals needs to be filled to meet the demand of China’s digital economy. In particular, there is a soaring need for professionals in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), intelligent manufacturing, semiconductors, and big data.

The industry is seeing a huge demand for professionals, but fresh graduates often lack the necessary skills and practical experience. To better match the two ends and nurture versatile talents proficient in both technology and industry development, it is important to accelerate cooperation and collaboration between enterprises and universities.

Recently, technology experts from Chinese e-commerce giant Meituan gave a course on AI technologies for instant delivery to students from the Department of Automation and the Department of Industrial Engineering of Tsinghua University.

The course includes AI-driven modeling and decision optimization methods within complex systems, and their specific applications in instant delivery. It was co-taught by Jia Qingshan, a professor with Tsinghua University’s Department of Automation, and Meituan’s technology experts. 

Students said the course combined theory and practice, helping them master the application of AI technologies in automated and intelligent decision-making in real industrial scenarios.

It is reported that Meituan and Tsinghua University established the Tsinghua University-Meituan Joint Institute for Digital Life in 2021. So far, they have initiated dozens of research cooperation projects and launched long-term courses such as Commercial Application and Practice of Big Data Technology.

In recent years, a number of new majors such as robotics engineering, intelligent manufacturing engineering, unmanned aerial vehicle system engineering, intelligent material technology, and intelligent vision engineering have become popular choices in universities. 

To enhance practical learning, universities have been introducing industry experts to co-teach courses, establishing joint laboratories with enterprises, setting up internship and practical training bases, and encouraging collaboration between university and industry mentors to guide student projects. These practical initiatives are becoming increasingly common.

Experts said that the digital industry is characterized by rapid technological updates, which leads to ever-changing demand for talents. Thus, adapting to new technologies and changes through university-enterprise collaboration, such as offering customized training programs and company-sponsored classes, is crucial.

Additionally, conducting digital vocational skill certification programs in leading enterprises and vocational institutions, establishing comprehensive digital occupational standards and evaluation systems, and cultivating an ecosystem for nurturing digital talents are vital pathways to drive the development of the digital economy.

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