“I didn’t know it would be like this,” says 22-year-old Dang Lirong as she searches job postings for anything related to medicine at a Beijing employment fair.
“I took the major because I thought it would give me a good job,” Dang says, adjusting her black-frame glasses. After four years of toil at college in Hebei and a year interning at a Beijing hospital, she has yet to land full-time work.
Dang is among 7.5 million college graduates entering China’s job market this summer, the most ever and almost seven times the number in 2001. Their dreams are colliding with an economy growing at the slowest pace in a generation, adding pressure on policy makers to spur the employment-intensive services sector.
“Every year it’s the most difficult job-seeking season for graduates in history, and the next year is even more difficult,” said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, a Beijing-based think tank. “The services sector isn’t developed enough to create enough effective demand for college grads.”
Compounding the challenge is a yawning skills gap between what the economy needs and what graduates want to do. The country’s services and innovation-led new economy is doing better than the polluting heavy industries of old, but they’re not expanding quickly enough to absorb the swelling ranks of aspiring attorneys, biologists and other young professionals.
Graduates last year most wanted to be secretaries, teachers, administrators, accountants and human resource managers, yet the top five needed by employers were salesmen, technicians, agents, customer service staff and waiters, according to a 2014 report from Peking University and the website ganji.com, which helps companies to hire.
The irony for China’s youth: the more educated you are, the tougher it is to find work. The unemployment rate for 16 to 25 year olds with a college degree or better was 5.6 percent in the first quarter, compared with 4.7 percent for those who didn’t finish high school, according to Gan Li, director of the Survey and Research Center for China Household Finance and a professor at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu.
Jobs Mismatch“Only when more high-end services jobs, especially those in research and development, are created will the college employment problem be solved,” said 21st Century Education’s Xiong. China needs to further open the state-controlled media, telecommunication and finance sectors to absorb more educated workers, he said.
Virtual World’“College students these days just want to sit in front of a computer, working and living in a virtual world,” she said, having collected fewer than 10 resumes in four hours working her booth. “They should come to companies like ours and do a job that communicates with people, real people.”
Twenty-two-year old Guo Rui is among those who have bent the dreams of youth to match economic reality. After studying television production and working short stints at TV stations and newspapers, she ditched plans for a life on screen because the pay just didn’t cut it. She now works as a property sales agent in Beijing, earning about 20,000 yuan a month.
“You can’t settle for what’s stable and comfortable when you’re young,” she said. “You should follow the market.”