Mary Poppins has a degree!
While her baby simulator rests this nanny works hard on her studies. Photo: Wang Zhefeng/GT
For attractive and intelligent administrative management graduate Zhou Yanyan, a career in office work was not what she had dreamed it might be and certainly not what she wanted.
The 23-year-old from Suqian, Jiangsu Province, studied at Xinjiang University and graduated in 2011. But then, out in the real world of employment, she found frustration not job satisfaction. "I was working as a general office clerk in Jiangsu, doing data collection and writing and earning just 3,000 yuan ($481) a month. I had spent my pay before payday every month."
This dull hand-to-mouth existence continued for almost two years. After Zhou realized there was little chance of advancement she resigned and looked around for a better paying and more fulfilling job.
That's when she first considered becoming a nanny. She discovered that in Shanghai qualified nannies were in demand and could command good salaries. She packed up her essentials and in February arrived in town and underwent a two-week course in childcare and child development before interning at a maternity clinic. She is now waiting to be chosen by the right family to become their nanny.
In Shanghai more graduates like Zhou have been training to become nannies, usually in specialist fields as confinement carers or infant nannies. Becoming a nanny, once a job that was only considered suitable for a middle-aged uneducated woman, is now attracting young bright and attractive women.
Zhou has been to one interview so far to see how clients selected their nannies. "It was just a talk and they asked personal questions and wanted to know what sort of housework I could do." These clients asked if she could cook but Zhou was not prepared to become a nanny and a cook.
"Although we are called ayi, I don't want to be a live-in housekeeper who takes care of the home. My intention, with my specialized training, is to be focused on looking after a baby," Zhou said. She said she would be able to give a child a balanced nutritious diet but she didn't want to have to cook meals for a family every day.
As an independent young woman and a graduate Zhou readily admits that a big attraction in becoming a nanny for her is the pay. During her training and stint as an intern she met several experienced nannies and they told her she could expect to earn about 4,000 yuan a month looking after an infant. With experience she could earn more - and because, unlike, other jobs, these are live-in positions, she doesn't have to pay rent or board.
Zhou wants to work as a nanny for up to five years to gain experience and save some money before returning to her hometown to set up her own childcare business. "The childcare business is booming in Shanghai just now and in a few years it will do the same back home."
Lin Yin is an experienced nanny. This 29-year-old also comes from Jiangsu where she graduated in computer studies in 2008. She first worked as a tutor at a training school in Jiangsu but earned just 1,200 yuan a month. To improve her salary she too, came to Shanghai and studied to become a nanny.
Zhou Yanyan prepares for a childcare diploma test. Photo: Wang Zhefeng/GT
"I did have some concerns. At first I thought that becoming a nanny was just becoming a domestic help, and people would wonder why a graduate would want to become a domestic help. But at that time, this was the only job that could quickly offer me good money, so I had no choice."
After training in maternal and infant care, Lin began working. After spending time with two families, Lin was engaged by her current family and started taking care of their baby who has now started kindergarten. The family want her to stay looking after the boy until he goes to study abroad.
"Now they think of me as a member of the family. The father and mother don't come from Shanghai but their work keeps them very busy so they think that me caring for their boy helps them a great deal. Nowadays the boy spends more time with me than with his parents," Lin said.
Lin's starting salary with the family was 3,500 yuan, but she now earns a dazzling 12,000 yuan a month. The high salary helps keep her loyalty and she works extra hard to be worth the money she is paid.
Lin has a diploma in advanced infant care from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. As well as looking after the little boy throughout the day she also acts as his teacher. "I play games and talk with him. A child's early development is very important, I know many of our neighbours pay a lot to send their kids to special training centers, but I can do that here for the boy."
Lin works six days a week but even on her day off she still tries to keep abreast of developments in childcare - she has been carefully reading a text on early childhood diseases. "Because childcare and education are my profession I want to advance my knowledge as much as possible."
Trainee nannies, with baby simulators beside them, prepare for a test. Photo: Wang Zhefeng/GT
Lin loves children - even her cell phone ring tone is the theme song from the hit Chinese television show, Where Are We Going, Dad? She believes that although young graduates don't have the experience middle-aged nannies might have, they are just as well equipped for the job and have good communication skills.
"A nanny has to work with people and being educated we can communicate easily with people."
Bai Yanfei is the founder of Gongxin Yuesao, a leading childcare company in Shanghai, and told the Global Times that, many international companies now have offices in Shanghai so there is a swarm of expat families needing quality nannies.
"Because these parents are busy at work they need qualified nannies to take care of their children. However many foreign families now set minimum education levels and language standards for their nannies - they want their nannies to be able to communicate well with their children and to present themselves well."
Graduates are most likely to meet the high standards and are keenly sought by highflying clients. These families are able to pay more than ordinary city families.
Bai said that during Christmas or Easter holidays, when these expat families return to their own countries, they like taking their nannies with them and they pay them even more on these breaks because they then pay what nannies in those countries would normally earn.
Bai is also a university graduate and after leaving the Jiangsu Maritime Institute in 2008 he worked as a programmer for an Internet company, earning 5,000 yuan a month. When the world financial crisis struck in 2008 and with many companies reducing their workforce, Bai thought long and hard and decided to resign and open his own business.
Bai had discovered that many of the city's housekeeping service companies did not understand the Internet, so his business initially involved building homepages and doing Internet promotions to link the companies with prospective clients.
In October 2011, Bai registered the name Gongxin Yuesao and started his own childcare business. Today he has some 2,000 nannies registered, with 1,000 currently assigned to families. Of his nannies between 5 and 10 percent have had a university or college education.
Would-be nannies study in a class. Photo: Wang Zhefeng/GT
"Society now has a different attitude to housekeepers and nannies. Nannies are not just domestic help - they are family help," he said, adding that nannies should also be aware that they are serving their clients.
The 30-year-old Bai does not think that university graduates who become nannies are wasting their degrees. "There are graduates in every walk of life." He said he was a good example of a graduate who, though he was only in the business for five years, had used his knowledge to build up his company and surpass many older childcare companies. Nowadays his company makes up to 1 million yuan a year.
He acknowledged that a drawback for many young graduates was that being a nanny required a great deal of commitment. "Unlike middle-aged poorly educated women, young graduate students often want to quit their work or leave for a variety of reasons."
Yunjiazheng is a leading Internet nanny provider boasting the biggest database in Shanghai. In April, 70,000 housekeepers and nannies were registered with Yunjiazheng. According to the Shanghai Housekeeping Association in 2012 there were 500,000 nannies in Shanghai.
Sun Li is the deputy manager of Yunjiazheng and said his company's figures showed that of the 70,000 nannies on the books just 5 percent had undertaken university education and 17.3 percent of these nannies were aged under 30.
The reason, Sun said, that more graduates were being attracted to the industry was certainly the pay. "Over the past 10 years, the average salary increase for Shanghai university graduates has been between 220 and 230 percent. In our business, the salaries for confinement carers have increased by up to 400 percent and for infant nannies by up to 600 percent."
"2010 was a turning point and since then nannies' salaries have surpassed the salaries of ordinary graduates. If a nanny's salary is higher than an ordinary office worker's it's not surprising that more graduates are training to become nannies."
Sun said, the China Housekeeping Association's figure showed that the housekeeping industry in China was worth 836.6 billion yuan, and was centered mostly in tier one and tier two cities. Shanghai accounts for a lot of the business for the industry and thus the nanny business is booming.
Sun believes that government initiatives would help increase the number of graduates seeking work as nannies. These days, he said, nannies are no longer just household workers but needed expertise and experience. The work was more demanding and pressured than ordinary office work and they deserved to be paid more.
"In China, the nanny industry is still to be regulated. I think in the future well-educated super nannies will be showing the way. They will be experts in family management."
Posted in: Society, Metro Shanghai