Factories poach northern craftsmen

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Nguyen Thi Dung, a craftsperson from Hanoi's Van Phuc Silk Village, recently applied for a job at a garment factory in the Quang Minh Industrial Park.

"Income from working as a craftsperson is too low, not enough to live on," she said. "Work is unstable due to a small number of orders. Factory salaries aren't any higher, but work is more stable. Meanwhile, companies buy health and social insurance for employees."

Dung said her sister, who gave up the family trade to seek a factory job two years ago, helped get her a job at the industrial park.

Like Dung, more and more craftspeople have given up their traditional trades to seek work at companies in industrial parks, creating a serious shortage of silk weavers in the nearby village, which has been producing the precious fabric for generations.

The northern region has been famous for centuries for its craft villages where households specialize in a certain traditional occupation.

"The shortage of skilled laborers in craft villages has become alarming," said Luu Duy Dan, vice chairman of the Vietnam Craft Village Association. "Young laborers are not interested in traditional work, and often give up the jobs to seek work in industrial parks."

He said that more than 11 million people, or around 24 percent of the agricultural labor force, work in craft villages far less than the existing demand. Only 1.3 million craft laborers have received vocational training.

Unstable work is the main reason craftsmen give up their trades, according to industry insiders.

Dan said that most craftspeople earn VND2-3 million (US$100-150) every month from doing traditional jobs. Some skilled workers pull in as much as VND4-5 million each month.

"The salary at craft villages is not lower than what they earn from working for companies in industrial parks, but laborers still prefer working for companies," he said.

Nguyen Huu Chinh, former head of the Van Phuc Silk Weaving Cooperative, said most of the craftsmen in his villages are middle-aged people.

"Young people do not like traditional work," he said. "Most of them seek jobs in industrial parks, near home."

The weaving workshops in Van Phuc employed over 1,000 local laborers, a few years ago. Now, the figure is down to between 300 and 400, he said.

"Big workshops only use about 10 craftsmen," Chinh said. "If orders increase, the workshops will find it hard to maintain enough laborers to get the job done."

Demand for silk remains high and some shops in Van Phuc have had to buy silk from weavers in Lam Dong and Nam Dinh provinces to resell, Chinh said.

Pham Vu Quoc Binh, deputy director of Vocational Skills Department under the General Department of Vocational Training, said laborers are interested in traditional work only when they receive vocational training to ensure higher productivity and better salaries.

Thus, to keep small craft firms fully staffed, they should focus more on training young workers and guaranteeing their long-term welfare, he said. 

The General Department of Vocational Training has cooperated with the Vietnam Craft Village Association and various craft firms to create vocational training programs, on a trial basis, for 2,610 laborers in 26 traditional jobs, since early last year. After finishing the training courses, 80 percent of the students get jobs, Binh said.

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