Almost 40, Li Zhengwen is having maybe the toughest time of his life.
After being jobless for four months, Li is considering vocational training to make himself more employable.
"I want to take the electrician courses. Every building needs electricians," says Li with a high school diploma.
Since leaving the countryside of southwest China's Sichuan Province in 1990 to find work, he has been to Beijing and coastal cities like Guangzhou and Qingdao, doing assembly line work, building exterior decoration, and store-keeping.
"Work was everywhere then, as along as you had enough muscle," he says. "So I never thought about learning any skills."
As many as 20 million migrant workers nationwide returned home during the Spring Festival without jobs as the global financial crisis brought a halt to urban construction, and factories in coastal areas closed down.
Some returned to the cities after the festival, seeking new opportunities.
Chongqing, a major labor force region on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, has more than 3 million migrant workers earning their livings outside the municipality every year. The local government estimates about a million of farmer-turned migrant workers will have to stay home this year while the others leave to look for work.
Li didn't go home this year for the Lunar New Year, China's traditional family gathering time, and continued job-hunting in Beijing.
He applied for a stockman position at an IT company, thinking his past experience might make him a prospect, but was turned down because he didn't know how to use computer software.
He went to a job fair specially set up for migrant workers last week and found all the positions required certain skills. Only one construction site needed hands, but required a driving license, which Li doesn't have.
He read about the Beijing occupational skills training school on a leaflet for "Spring Breeze Action", an activity organized by local labor and social security bureau to help migrant workers look for jobs.
He decided to sign up for the primary-level electrician courses after consulting the staff at the enrollment desk.
Staff member Jia Lan noticed that there are about 20 migrant workers ask about training courses every day and 60 to 70 percent of the trainees are migrant workers.
"Most of them prefer to take electrician or welding courses, as these are relatively easy to learn for unskilled people," Jia says.
Yang Chengjie aged 25 from Hebei province, enrolled in the electrician course last December. He now works as a shop assistant with a monthly salary of 2,000 yuan (about 290 U.S. dollars), but he is worried the job is stable enough, as "anyone can do it".
Yang says he wanted to become an auto mechanic, but that could take three to four years, which is too long for him.
"I'm also interested in being an electrician and it takes less time," he says.
He attends school every Tuesday and Saturday, for he has to work more on other days.
After passing the primary-level examination, Yang can get a certificate that allows him to work on low-voltage power systems, such as home appliances; but if he wants to have more choice in the job market, he has to pursue the high-level certificate for high-voltage power systems.
Yang will look for an electrician position when he is qualified. "I heard that an electrician can earn 3,000 to 4,000 yuan per month."
However, he says many companies have cut their recruitment plans and their staff are reluctant to start job-hopping.
"Anyway, a skill belongs to me. It will be useful some day," says Yang, who has been in Beijing for six years.
The training fee for the primary-level courses is about 450 yuan, which is affordable for Yang, but a little too much for Li Zhengwen.
"I've already lost my job, but I have to pay for the training, I hope the government can do something," Li says.
The central government in early February ordered local authorities to organize three to six months of training for jobless migrant workers from this year.
Some provinces, especially the labor force regions, have already acted. Chongqing and central China's Anhui Province both plan to provide training for the migrant workers to start their own business.
"In 2009, we will offer training for 50,000 migrant workers," says Chen Xiaoling, deputy director of Anhui labor and social security bureau.
In Henan, another major source of the country's migrant workers, the provincial government also leveraged a government-subsidized project that will retrain 2 million migrants.
The subsidy will be given to training facilities, 400-600 yuan for each migrant worker, to provide short-term occupational training for them.
Beijing, however, still has no plan for free training, according to the municipal labor and social security bureau.
The bureau is focusing on providing employment information for migrant workers and helping to protect their interests while job-hunting, says an information officer of the bureau who declined to be named.
"We encourage them to find out what skills the cities really need and get vocational training at home, instead of just coming to the cities."
Although some of Li Zhengwen's fellow-villagers returned home, he says he has been accustomed to city life.
"The countryside often lacks electricity and it's difficult to get connected to the Internet," he says.
Li usually read newspapers or looks for job ads on the Internet. He says he often sent his resume to all kinds of possible employers via e-mail, whereupon he got the last job interview.
"I cannot imagine the life without the Internet."
He insists the big cities have more working opportunities. His wife is also in Beijing, doing cleaning work.
But their 16-year-old daughter will go to high school in their hometown in September, which could cost 10,000 yuan a year-well out of reach for the couple, who depend on the 1,000 yuan a month earned by Li's wife.
"Although my wife never complains, I've felt the pressure," Li says. "I have to get a job as soon as possible. Hope the skill training course I signed in would be helpful."