Working for two bosses: Student interns as constrained labour in China

Chris Smith, Jenny Chan

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Based on interviews with students and teachers at one electronics company, we analyse the use of student interns to do regular manufacturing work in China. We argue that student workers need to be seen as a distinct category of constrained labour; part of a growing insecure workforce in China. We find that students enrolled in vocational schools are moved into internships, without their consent, to suit the needs of employers. This results in a misalignment between interns and their area of study that invalidates the basic principle of vocational education, which is to combine theory and practice within a sector or occupationally-focused education programme. Teachers in vocational schools follow their students into the factory and become ‘teacher-supervisors’, receiving a second salary for co-managing the utilization of student interns’ labour power. Thus, within such an unfree labour regime, student workers are subject to dual control in the workplace from managerial and teacher-supervisors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305–326
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015

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