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Contest highlights skills in elder care

By Li Lei in Nanjing | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-30 08:53

A caregiver demonstrates her skills in an elderly care contest at the National Vocational Skills Competition for the Civil Affairs Industry in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on Wednesday. [Photo by Shao Dan/For China Daily]

A national contest highlighting skilled workers in the elder care and funeral sectors kicked off on Wednesday in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, where one in every four permanent residents is aged 60 or above.

After seven months of preliminaries, 307 contestants from across the nation gathered this week for the National Vocational Skills Competition for the Civil Affairs Industry.

The competition, organized by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, features participants in roles such as caregiver for the elderly, crematorium technician, cemetery manager as well as prosthetic and orthotic technicians.

Shi Xiaoyan, a chief referee, said the competition emphasizes real-life scenarios. For example, caregivers will compete in settings such as elderly people's residences and community centers, reflecting the growing popularity of home- and community-based elder care.

"In addition, smart tools are also represented in the competition," she said, citing examples such as smart beds that can assess sleep quality and heart rate, canes equipped with fall alarms, and wristwatches for monitoring vital signs.

Shi said that such tools mirror the actual living environments of today's elderly Chinese, and participants are expected to deliver services tailored to such scenarios.

Xu Kunlin, governor of Jiangsu, said at the opening ceremony on Wednesday that the contest is the most comprehensive in the field of civil affairs, boasting a diverse range of professions, a large number of participants and significant influence.

"Hosting this event will help speed up the training of top-notch people in civil affairs, help grow a pool of high-quality talent, and drive the high-quality development of the sector," he said, adding he hoped the competition would encourage more people to pursue careers in such fields.

China is experiencing rapid demographic changes, with a significant increase in the elderly population due to a mix of factors such as longer life expectancy and a falling birthrate.

According to an estimate by the National Health Commission, about one-third of the Chinese population will be over 60 years old by 2050, creating a huge demand for caregivers.

He Ni, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs who oversees elder care, said that caregiving is a respectable profession that can relieve the worries of society and families.

"Because taking care of the elderly is tough work and doesn't pay well, there's still a gap in China between the number and quality of caregivers and what the aging population needs and expects," she said. This demographic shift also creates a growing demand for end-of-life services.

However, funeral-related jobs are often viewed as unappealing due to cultural taboos surrounding death, leading to a lack of interest among younger generations.

Contestants and trainers said the event showcased new practices and technologies in the industry, such as eco-friendly burials that avoid the use of coffins or headstones, and livestreamed burial ceremonies. The publicity helps challenge stereotypes about these professions, they added.

"In the past, I could never have imagined that we would be able to showcase elements of the funeral industry on this kind of platform," said Zuo Honghai, who works at a funeral home in Guizhou province. While coaching contestants in the cemetery manager category in Nanjing, he said that he had been in the sector for over 20 years and used to feel embarrassed about discussing his job.

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