- Yang felt overwhelmed by factory life yet he didn't dare to take a sick leave.
- The sense of freedom is more obvious on the construction site.
- The shortage of young construction workers might face a solution.
Born in 1999, Yang is the youngest construction worker on his team. He has no regrets about working a blue-collar job. Six years ago, dreaming to shine in a big city, Yang came to Xiamen with some friends after finishing only junior high school.
In the beginning, not knowing what to do, he listened to a friend’s idea and signed up for a training course to become a hairdresser. During a whole month, he did nothing but washing hair. “The final exam was to wash the instructor’s hair. If he felt comfortable, course completed. I didn’t even touch any scissors there.”
After graduation, Yang got assigned to a local barbershop. Still, he only got to wash hair. For each customer he could earn $0.46, without a base salary. He left after almost two years. “I could barely afford myself. Thanks to a friend, I entered a factory as I had always wanted. But I soon realized that life in a factory is even worse.”
7:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., one repeated movement on the assembly line. “It doesn’t need you to be smart. You just have to be fast. I can’t remember how many times I had to gobble my lunch just to have some extra time to keep up with the speed.”
Every night at the dormitory, there was barely any conversation. Everyone came back from different lines exhausted. Yang felt overwhelmed by the factory life. But he didn’t dare to take a sick leave because he would receive a fine for it.
“A factory like that, it’s no better than a jail. I used to think that big factories treat workers well. But it’s too repetitive to learn anything. All they want is your body and energy.”
Yang went back to his hometown after a year in the factory. He got a new chance at a construction site. When he entered the site, he worried about the stories he’d heard of construction workers not getting their salary after the project. “I noticed very soon that things are different now. Many construction companies use collaboration tools to monitor us and the project. It’s well regulated just like any other profession now.”
From a factory to a construction site, the biggest difference is “freedom.”
“I can walk around and do things at my rhythm. In the factory I always felt restricted and somehow watched. Here among the workers we’re more like friends than competitors as in the factory.”
In the factory, layoffs happen all the time as production orders decrease.
“People would gang up and squeeze out those that they don’t like. On the construction site, on the other hand, everyone is willing to share. Experienced workers are very well respected. I’ve learnt a lot from them.”
There have been several reports on the shortage of young construction workers in China in recent years. As more post-90s such as Yang start to know better the pros and cons, the situation might be different.