GUIYANG, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- Travelling home, the prelude to migrant worker Chen Shilong's annual family reunion to celebrate the Spring Festival, has been incredibly comfortable this year.
Rather than squeezing into a stuffy, jam-packed train for a 32-hour journey, Chen boarded a plane in Shanghai on Tuesday and landed two hours later at Xingyi Airport, located in his home prefecture of Qianxinan in southwest China's Guizhou Province.
He left his home in Anlong County to work on the east coast seven years ago, but it was the first flight for the 24-year-old former farmer.
The flight cost as much as his usual one-way train ticket, as the Qianxinan Bouyei-Miao Autonomous Prefecture government chartered a plane to carry Chen and about 90 others originally from the area home this year.
The skills these migrant workers have acquired while working in Shanghai afforded them this special treatment, as prefecture authorities hope the returned workers will consider seeking local employment after the Spring Festival holiday season ends on Feb. 24.
"During the Spring Festival, any migrant worker returning home from Shanghai on the flight will only need to pay 20 percent of the fare, with the rest covered by the prefectural government," said Zhang Zheng, deputy chief of the Qianxinan Prefecture Committee of the Communist Party of China.
"We hope such treatment can lure skilled workers to work at home, as our rapidly expanding industrial parks are in dire need of skilled workers," said Zhang.
With a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of 19,608 yuan (3,151 U.S. dollars) in 2012, Guizhou is China's poorest province and has seen about 5 million of its workers seek employment in developed coastal regions.
Meanwhile, the economic development in Qianxinan, China's youngest prefecture, is slightly above the province's average.
Although compared with the more affluent east coastal regions, Qianxinan is at a notable disadvantage in the struggle to attract skilled workers, analysts remain optimistic about the prefecture with a population of 3.32 million.
Lu Xueyi, professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the global economic downturn has bitten into the export-oriented, labor-intensive industries on the east coast, triggering pay cuts in the light industry.
As the east coast speeds up industrial upgrading, labor-intensive industries will move into the land-locked western regions and change the flow pattern of production factors, especially in terms of manpower, Lu said.
This will make the less-developed western interior obviously more attractive, he added.
Guizhou, for instance, has seen a rapid expansion of industrial parks, where companies relocating from coastal areas have mushroomed, said Wu Ming, deputy chief of the Employment Bureau of Kaili City, Guizhou Province.
"There are thousands of job openings waiting to be filled. Local residents with expertise and work experience on the east coast are urgently needed," said Wu.
Chen Shilong has considered finding a job at home. "I will talk with people working here to see if the working conditions are stable and ask about the salary or whether I can be paid on time," Chen said.
Like Guizhou, many other labor-rich provinces, including Henan, Sichuan and Jiangxi, have jumped on the bandwagon to bring migrant workers home.
Favorable welfare packages that include medical and social insurance are being offered by these provinces to entice potential employees.
Zhang Xiaotian currently works in Shanghai, but said he will stay in his hometown in Henan Province after the Spring Festival, as many of his peers have also chosen to do.
"Earning less in my hometown than here is not such a bad deal, because I can stay with family," said Zhang.
As a rapidly aging China faces a disappearing demographic dividend, Lu said regional competition for skilled workers will get intense.
A report from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that for the first time since the late 1970s, the working population aged 15-59 contracted by 3.45 million year on year in 2012.
McKinsey Global Institute expects the maximum deficit of skilled workers will hit 22 million by 2020.
As a long-term measure to ease the shortfall, Wu Ming said it is important to expand vocational training and higher-education opportunities in rural areas.