Nannies opt to go back to the classroom

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily) 08:11, October 24, 2023

Students are having a class at Shanghai Open University. [Photo/Shanghai Open University]

Housekeepers sign up for bachelor-degree programs in management

Xu Yiyuan has worked as a nanny caring for newborns, young children and new mothers in Shanghai for 15 years.

She recently started to take online classes — and offline ones when possible — to study for a bachelor's degree.

The 42-year-old from Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, is among the fifth group of students studying household management at Shanghai Open University.

"As in all other professions, a better educational background can usually help graduates obtain more rewarding career opportunities. Clients' overall requirements for housekeepers, especially those relating to children's education, are increasing," said Xu, adding that she wanted to "take a step further" in the prime of her life.

"I excelled in my studies at senior high school, but I didn't go to university because of my family's financial situation. Now, my university dream has finally come true," she said.

After the central government released a document in 2019 to support development of the household management industry in terms of quality and quantity, the Shanghai university became the first higher education institute in China to launch a bachelor's degree program in the discipline in March 2021.

The first cohort of 95 graduates, who completed five semesters of study, graduated from the university in July. Shanghai is among those cities with the highest standards for housekeeping services.

Lu Qi, dean of Shanghai Open University's School of Public Administration, said: "Household management is a profession that has been misunderstood for a long time. Our goal is not to cultivate college students to become nannies, but to cultivate nannies to become college students.

"Some 750,000 people work in the household service industry in Shanghai, but there is a significant market need for workers who can provide high-quality service, especially in the roles of stewards and 'growth partners' for children, and in expatriate families," she said.

Yang Wanling, who is in charge of the program, said higher education empowers learners to change their ways of thinking, which cannot be achieved through short-term instruction.

"Only through systematic and holistic academic study can learners develop a new approach to discover problems, think about reasons, and seek solutions in their everyday work. Such changes are more valuable than manual skills," she said.

Data from the Shanghai Home Service Industry Association show that 35 percent of the city's families required home service workers in 2015, and the proportion rose to 53 percent last year. The association has forecast that the scale of the home service market will reach 60 billion yuan ($8.23 billion) in 2025.

Wang Shuxia, chairwoman of the China Family Service Industry Association, said domestic services have witnessed new developments in many respects in recent years. The reasons for these advances include an aging population, parents increasingly pursuing improved education for their children, and people's desire to lead better lives.

Domestic service is not only about cleaning and cooking — a popular belief in the past. Those benefiting from such service include newborns, toddlers, students, young couples, the elderly and the physically challenged, Wang said.

"It has become a more diversified industry, covering family education, household management, nutritional catering, and the intellectual development of infants and young children. The industry's vitality has been further enhanced," she added.

Xu's work experience supports Wang's comments. Xu first trained as a maternity matron at a housekeeping service agency in Shanghai. Later, she took classes in making food for infants, cognitive development in young children, and early education for toddlers. Xu then decided to become a nanny for young children.

"I even learned to drive, becoming the first member of my family to do so," Xu said, adding that driving enables her to obtain work that involves taking children to school by car.

But she thought that a bachelor's degree would hold more sway with clients looking for "growth partners" to help with their children's studies at kindergarten and primary school.

As a result, she signed up for the university program, for which students pay fees of more than 2,000 yuan ($273) for each of the five semesters.

Yang said: "The students appear to have a high level of enthusiasm for learning, and they always take the initiative to learn. They have very clear goals for improving their overall abilities.

"We teachers feel strongly that we're also learning from the students. They often discuss with us their observations, feelings, thoughts and the latest difficulties with their work."

Yang said there are three types of students. More than half are frontline domestic service workers, and the remainder comprise managers of housekeeping service agencies and those interested in the quality of family life.

Most of the students are in the 40 to 45 age group, and two out of three graduated from senior high schools.

Compared with the household management program launched by Shanghai Open University in 2014, which focuses more on skills, the bachelor's degree program centers more on knowledge, Yang said.

"For example, workers need to do more than just cook dishes that look appealing, smell good, and taste delicious. The bachelor's degree studies enable them to acquire knowledge of nutrition and health management, so that they will better mix and match ingredients and prepare better diets for different people," she said.

General, basic and professional courses are on offer. Students who are managers at housekeeping agencies usually take classes that include the development of modern service science, the operations of domestic management enterprises, and human resources. Front-line domestic workers seeking better career development take classes that include family health management, family aesthetics, and consumption guidance.

Courses are given offline and online. To graduate, students need to complete more than 70 learning hours and pass theoretical and hands-on exams for different classes, along with a graduation thesis within two and a half years.

Xu said she was highly impressed by a lesson themed on nonviolent communication during a course on communication and etiquette.

She said she once had a dispute with a client. "I worked hard taking care of the client's baby that day, so when she asked me about something, I gave her a straightforward answer. The client told me I often answered her by posing rhetorical questions, but I didn't realize this," Xu said.

"In class, my teacher cited many examples of dialogue involving abusive language. This helped me a lot to change the way in which I talked, and I will now try to speak more politely."

More confidence

Zhu Chunnan, 47, who has worked as a housekeeper in Shanghai for more than 15 years, graduated from the bachelor's degree program this summer. She said that boosting her confidence was the biggest gain from her studies.

A native of Anhui province, Zhu said she used to have a sense of inferiority, but after taking the degree program, she began to view herself and her work in a different light.

"I'm now more convinced that I'm being paid for my hard work and professional knowledge in this field. I have an increasingly strong sense that I have equal status to my clients," Zhu said.

"The lessons also gave me more confidence in choosing clients to work for, rather than waiting to be selected."

This increased confidence also allows Zhu to better express herself and explain the way in which she works.

"I'm now able to give the reasons for matching food ingredients, and the logic behind home organizing. I'm more confident about making suggestions to clients, and my suggestions are better accepted," she said.

A 35-year-old student taking the degree program, who only wanted to be named as Sun, said she was deeply moved by a class about a family's life cycle.

"Chinese people do not receive that much education about marriage, family life and connections and intimacy between family members. My class allowed me to spend some time thinking about the support and love I have from my family. When I completed the course, I became more grateful to my husband," she said.

Sun, who now works as a salesperson, became a mother a year ago. She signed up for the program out of personal interest to provide better care for her family.

Information from housekeeping agencies shows that more young people are joining the home service industry, with the proportion of those in the 40 to 55 age group falling. The latter group of workers has traditionally been the dominant force in the industry.

Data from 58.com, a domestic daily life service platform, show that the average age of entrepreneurs operating home service agencies with the platform fell by 15 percent this year compared with 2021. Those born in and after 1995 have become the major force launching startups in this field.

Housekeepers are now better paid, despite the economic challenges that many industries face.

Yin Zizi, a manager at Shanghai Aijun Home Service Agency, said, "A nanny new to the job of taking care of newborns and new mothers can easily earn more than 10,000 yuan a month in big cities after gaining three to six months' work experience.

"Nannies with a good working experience and reputation can earn at least 20,000 yuan a month."

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


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