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Count Them In Or Out? China's Next Generation Of Job Hunters

Looking to the future in Hangzhou...
Looking to the future in Hangzhou...
Yang Dongping

Ever since 2002, when the first batch of students graduated after national expansion of university enrollment, the difficulty for educated young people to find employment has become a hot topic each summer.

The total number of graduates has grown every year. With 6.99 million fresh graduates this year, the number is hitting another record high.

The market needs time to absorb this sudden growth of employment demand. Though it isn't easy, the situation isn't as serious as it is sometimes presented. Based on the experience of the past decade, the growing number of China's college graduates has been largely absorbed into the workforce.

So why the annual alarm and panic about the job hunt for these young people?

A part of the explanation, I believe, is a faulty method for calculating the unemployment statistics. The alarm has always been sounded around March or April because the universities have started assessing their students' employment rate. Nothing is more absurd than a student who is pressed to sign up for a job before he even walks out of college.

Choosing a career is a complex and lengthy process, and can never be as uniform as the orderly assignment of jobs in China's era of a planned economy. It's completely normal that graduates take up to six months or even a year to find a job after finishing their studies.

Moreover, false employment rate calculations by Chinese universities are highly prevalent. This not only greatly reduces the reliability of the data, but also prevents us from acknowledging the real job hunting situation for graduates. This also makes the senior year -- and the second semester in particular -- into little more than a job-hunting season.

Obviously, as time goes by, the graduate employment rate will increase. The statistic released by China's Ministry of Education has basically always been above 70% in the past, with its time node set on September 1. The employment rate of graduates on December 31, 2005, published by China's Ministry of Personnel, showed a figure of 87.7%. This was 15% higher than the data on September 1. If the calculation were pushed back to be one year after graduation, one could expect a further 10% increase. Since this means an employment rate of over 90% one year after graduation, where is the big problem?

The way foreign colleges assess their alumni employment situation is always based on one year after graduation. It is only in a planned economy where jobs are assigned that the rates are measured before the students leave school, on July 1.

It is thus imperative that China set its statistical clock in accordance with international practice, i.e., December 31 for the six-month mark, and July 1 for one year after graduation. Not only will this largely increase the usefulness of the employment rate data and avoid panic, the statistic will also be more credible.

In addition, the statistical methods must be reformed. Currently the data comes self-reported from colleges, which are lax in effective monitoring and regulation. The more pressure the colleges suffer, the worse the data is distorted.

Establishing a new statistical mechanism for the rate of graduate employment can be part of the government's new attempt at raising the quality of its information dissemination, and communicating through social media.

As for the latest information, the most noteworthy is how certain fields of study can lead to vastly greater difficulty in finding a job after graduation.

What employers want

According to surveys by MyCOS, an education data consulting firm, the "Top 10" unemployment list features graduates who recently majored in English, computer science and technology, law, art and design, international economy and trade, business administration, accounting, electronic and information engineering, Chinese language and literature, information management and systems.

The major reason is that when China set in motion the "Great Leap Forward" in university enrollment, a large number of low-cost liberal arts majors were created. This has resulted in an imbalance between supply and demand. Meanwhile, the once popular disciplines such as international trade or computer science have changed from being in short supply to being in surplus.

The high draw for art courses, as well as audiovisual and animation professions, is obviously illogical. Yet, year after year, these disciplines produce an excessive number of graduates and continue to admit massive numbers of students. This is the clearest reflection that China's higher education system is disconnected from the job market.

Businesses' appraisal of graduates is worth paying attention to as well. The employers' dissatisfaction with graduates isn't just because they lack updated expertise or don't have certain practical skills, but due to, first of all, their value system: questions such as integrity, professionalism and a good working attitude.

What depresses employers are the half-hearted, frequent job-hoppers -- or worse, the dishonest ones who take them as a springboard and quit their jobs without even giving proper notice. Businesses tend to prefer to pay higher salaries for proficient workers rather than training them from scratch. This certainly makes matters worse for fresh graduates desperately looking for work.

Apart from all these longer term trends, there is also a brand new tendency. Because of China's economic downturn, the recruitment needs of enterprises have significantly decreased over the past months. This is unprecedented in the past decade. Alas, the resolution of this issue is beyond the sphere of education and it seems that there is no instant answer.

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