Who would want to be in the Class of Covid-19 in China? Most of these students have barely been on campus during their final year at university and now nearly nine million of them are looking for work in the worst job market in living memory.
China’s official rate of urban unemployment was 5.9% in May, the most recent of the monthly surveys. That was down from 6% in April, although commentators believe that the numbers are significantly underreported. The jobless rate for 20-24 year olds – more typical of graduate age – fared more poorly, up from the previous month and showing a 3.3% increase on a year earlier. That still seems too low if anecdotal data from online recruitment firms is to be believed, showing the number of roles on offer to graduates has dropped sharply.
A study by Peking University of the positions advertised by the recruitment platform Zhaopin earlier this year reckoned that jobs on offer had dropped by at least 10% in the first quarter. The worst affected were jobseekers with minimal amounts of work experience, it warned.
Other stories in the media point in a similar direction, with growing pressure from provincial governments on college administrators to help at least 70% of their students to get job offers. Even the best of the universities have been busy persuading their alumni to hire more of the current crop of graduates as well.
Another problem for policymakers is that they can’t be sure about the true picture on graduate recruitment. The employment statistics are collected each year at university level and passed on to the Ministry of Education for aggregation. But the universities have a history of juicing up their numbers because institutions with better employment scores move up the government rankings, unlocking more funding.
That creates situations in which some universities have been exposed for faking work contracts or even refusing to allow graduation until students can prove that they have a job to go to.
The education ministry warned tertiary colleges this year that it will be conducting another round of spot checks on their recruitment data by talking to the graduates, as well as the employers at which they are supposed to have found jobs. Nonetheless, the ministry has been doing a little massaging of the figures itself by tweaking the range of roles that it classes as employment when colleges report on what their graduates will be doing. New categories that make the cut include blogging, running online shops and managing public accounts on WeChat, and even playing eSports (see WiC461 for an interview with someone who didn’t even make it to university, dropping out of school to play professionally in Shanghai).
In another round of efforts to keep graduates out of the unemployment count, the government has been pushing state-owned enterprises to increase hiring. Sinopec, the oil major, has upped its number of hires by 50% in recent weeks, on top of the 6,600 offers it had already made this year, for instance.
Even the Chinese military has been doing its bit by upping its hiring targets and recruiting for officer rank from non-military universities.
Another tactic is to keep more students at university as post-graduates, with at least 189,000 more places available on Master’s courses this year.
The job crunch is compounded by the surge in student numbers, which over the past 20 years has outpaced white-collar job creation. In 1998 about one in 10 people aged between the ages of 18 and 22 went to university in China. But as of this year more than five in 10 in the same age group were making it into tertiary education, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
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