Amid China boom, job search for many grads goes bust

Sep 13, 2011, 7:15 p.m.
Students attend their college graduation ceremony in Shanghai's Fudan University July 2, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) - Yan Minglong, one of millions of recent Chinese college graduates, is not impressed with the doors opened by higher education.

"Jobs? What jobs?" the 23-year-old said, whiling away his Saturday afternoon in a billiards hall in Shigezhuang, a gritty neighborhood on Beijing's northern outskirts where cheap rent is the main draw for some of China's white-collar hopefuls.

Students from the country's largest-ever college graduating class, 6.6 million, have gone from hitting the books to hitting the streets in search of work this summer.

But pouring that many graduates into an economy long known as the world's workshop has fueled worries about the market's capacity to absorb them and the potential for political unrest.

In a country where 80 percent of the population has not finished secondary school, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Yan is arguably among China's highly educated.

A graduate from a three-year automotive program at Hebei province's Jiaotong Vocational and Technical College, Yan has been working as a car repairman. He lives in a dormitory on the west side of Beijing with six others and pulls in about 2,500 yuan ($390) a month.

"How can I say I'm satisfied? Even after five years, I know my income will be basically the same as my friends who didn't study after high school," said Yan.

A 2011 study by the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences paints a rosy picture of graduate employment, saying only 6.7 percent of 2010 graduates with four-year or vocational degrees were still looking for work six months after leaving campus.

The vast majority had found jobs or were pursuing further studies. Unemployment was down almost three percent from 2009.

Wang Meiyan, an associate professor at the Institute of Population and Labour Economics at CASS, said that, on the whole, China's job market for recent graduates was healthy.

"Their employment challenges aren't as serious as society thinks. Any difficulties that graduates are facing in China's job market doesn't mean that the problem is unique to China," she said.

By comparison, a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute put the unemployment rate for recent U.S. graduates between April 2010 and March 2011 at 9.7 percent.

But Ren Xinghui, a researcher at the Transition Institute, an independent Beijing think tank, was skeptical of the government-approved graduate employment statistics.

"Job rates are measured by schools' administration departments and are an important index of university performance that will determine their treatment, giving them an incentive to over-report employment rates of their graduates," he said.

Whether the market can absorb another six million-plus college graduates this year depended largely upon how job opportunity was defined, he said.

"If it just means having work, that is certainly available. But if we are talking about the opportunity in the sense of it matching training and room for professional development, then there is a problem," Ren said.


Even if graduate employment rates are as high as the government says, the jobs on offer are often far from what ambitious twenty-somethings want.

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