Updated with comment and detail from Foxconn.
Foxconn believes that students are the future, at least judging by its deal with China’s Xi’an Institute of Technology to expose more than 1,000 of them to the educational experience of working on an assembly line (link in Chinese) for Sony’s forthcoming Playstation 4.
Engineering students from Xi’an Institute of Technology were told that if they didn’t participate in the internship program, they wouldn’t receive six course credits, effectively making it impossible for them to graduate, according to Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily and the Chinese site Tencent Games, as translated by Games in Asia.
Foxconn told Quartz that after an internal investigation it determined that the XIT students at its Yantai factory complex were assigned to night shifts and overtime, in violation of the company’s policies. “Immediate actions have been taken to bring that campus into full compliance with our code and policies,” the company said in a statement, including “reinforcing the policies of no overtime and no night shifts for student interns, even though such work is voluntary, and reminding all interns of their rights to terminate their participation in the program at any time.”
Foxconn maintains similar internship programs “at many locations” in China, the company added, to provide students “with the opportunity to gain practical work experience and on-the-job training that will support their efforts to find employment following their graduation.” Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Even if the students are only working day shifts, the educational value of the internship sounds dubious. Students perform the same hours and work as paid Foxconn workers—gluing together parts, applying stickers, and boxing up cords. Foxconn says they also earn the same salary as entry-level workers.
Foxconn has struggled with China’s shrinking labor force, and founder Terry Gou acknowledged this weekend that finding enough workers to fill his factories was becoming a major headache.
“The young generation don’t want to work in factories, they want to work in services or the internet or another more easy and relaxed job,” he told the Financial Times. “Many workers are moving to the services sector and, in the manufacturing sector, total demand [for workers] is now more than supply.”
Enlisting interns has become a go-to move for China’s largest private employer, which employs more than 1 million people. Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industries, was previously criticized for a similar deal in which students from the Huaiyin Institute of Technology were pressed into working on the iPhone 5 assembly line. Foxconn countered then, as now, that the students were “free to leave at any time.”