Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vietnam's young work and study long hours to get ahead

After finishing work at Nakico company at HCM City’s Tan Phu District, Tran Thanh Tuan, 24, cycles 11km to the HCM City University of Industry to attend night classes. It’s a busy day with little time for rest.

Over the past two years Tuan starts his day at 6am and ends at 10pm, with the same routine of working, studying and then doing his homework day after day.

"Working and studying makes me really tired. Yet, I’m determined to get my BSc degree because it’s the only way for me to ensure a brighter future," said Tuan.

Le Thi To Nga, a worker at Towa company in Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone (EPZ), also has to balance work and study. She’s enrolled in an accounting and auditing course at Nguyen Tat Thanh College.

"Too much work and study leaves me little time to care for my little daughter," said Nga.

"The only thing I have time to do is check her homework at 10pm."

Tuan and Nga are among more than 300 workers in the city who are keen on enhancing their knowledge after work.

The biggest challenge for workers who are also studying is to effectively manage their time.

"Sometime I am too tired, but I cannot have a day off from work because it would greatly affect my income," said Nga.

Nga is still lucky since she is permitted to finish work early during examination days. Tuan has to rotate his study and work timetable frequently.

"If I work at night I would take day courses and vice versa," he said.

"Some of my friends had to drop their studies due to frequently changing shifts at work."

Agreeing with Tuan, a worker at Linh Trung Industrial Zone who prefered to be anonymous said: "Most of services courses take place after work hours (5pm). But if you refuse to work night shift it gives the impression you don’t want to share the burden of the company."

He went on to say that it also meant his position at the company would be at risk, along with his bonus. But he warned of another danger: some supervisors disliked workers who tried to get higher degrees, simply because bosses feared these people would replace them.

In addition to being short of time to study, school fees are also a headache for worker-students.

With monthly salaries of a little more than VND1million (US$62), school fees of VND4-5 million ($250-310) are difficult to cover for most workers.

Thu Thao, an employee of Nidec Copal Company and student at HCM City University of Economics, said she had to save money for two years before registering at the school. Yet, the sum was just enough for three terms. For the fourth term, she had to borrow money from friends.

"Apart from school fees, there are expenses for learning materials and travelling costs," said Thao.

The worry over school fees may be alleviated for a few hard workers, as the Business Studies and Assistance Centre (BAS) has launched a foundation to grant scholarships and interest-free loans for disadvantaged workers. The foundation reviews applications on a monthly basis. Each worker can borrow between VND2-7 million ($118-$412) depending on their course and living conditions.

"Procedures for loans are very simple," said Nga.

Tuan agreed that the loan helped him substantially to ensure his school fees are paid on time.

"A colleague of mine informed me about the fund and I applied for a loan. It is a solution to ensuring the fees are paid on time even if I have run out of money," said Tuan.

So far 58 worker-students both inside and outside industrial and economic zones in the city have been granted the preferential loans.

According to Tran Minh Trong, the foundation’s director, borrowers tend to take courses at vocational training schools and universities hoping that the degrees will help them get better jobs.

The foundation will grant 26 scholarships to outstanding worker-students belonging to 15 businesses in Tan Binh, Linh Trung and Tan Thuan IZs and EPZs on Friday.

Though the number of workers interested in studying is small compared with the total number of workers, Trong said he hoped the BAS would help increase the number of workers pursuing studies.

"Improving knowledge of workers not only benefits the learners themselves but enhances the quality of the businesses and the labour market in general," said Trong.

There are about 1.2 million workers in the city, among them 250,000 work at 15 EPZs and IZs.