Talent challenges are likely to drag on the progress of China’s major new plan to modernize and upgrade its manufacturing sector, the controversial and contentious “Made in China 2025” initiative (MIC 2025).
Although China is making some progress in increasing the number of highly educated workers in its manufacturing workforce, the bulk of its workers are at the secondary education level, basically the equivalent of middle school and high school in the US. As of 2013, the share of highly skilled workers in Chinese manufacturing stood at just 13 percent. This compares to 47 percent in the US (also in 2013). As a reference, the figure stood at 28 percent for Japan back in 2000.
In the short term, the MIC 2025 emphasis on leap-frogging in robotics is almost certainly related to these skills gaps in the Chinese manufacturing workforce. But then again, robots still need highly skilled operators.