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Job market tough for China’s new grads

Scott Tong Apr 1, 2009
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Job market tough for China’s new grads

Scott Tong Apr 1, 2009
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Renita Jablonski: The jobless problem is a global one. In China, the concern is not just unemployed factory workers, but college graduates. About a quarter of the 5.5 million people graduating college in China this year are not expected to find a job. That has political leaders worried about social stability. From Shanghai, Marketplace’s Scott Tong has that.


Scott Tong: Three months to graduation, and college senior Fang Meihui is still fishing for a job. No bites, so she blows off steam at a karaoke bar.

She’s rapping with friends near the campus of Fudan University. These students have spent their lives riding a wave of economic growth in China; now, they’re about to be dumped into an employment desert. Twelve percent of graduates here are jobless. Here’s her classmate, Zhu li:

Zhu Li (voice of interpreter): My dad’s generation, it fought for everything — jobs, satisfaction. It’s in their bones. Not us — we have food, toys, our folks bought us computers. And we now have to hunt for a job? We’re not used to this.

Students like Zhu are part of a China-wide college enrollment glut. A decade ago, universities here jacked up enrollment to help smooth out a prior recession. Campuses have overflowed ever since. But in largely blue-collar China, these white-collar jobs that these students expect just aren’t there in big enough numbers.

At a local job fair, I met Lei Bingjian. He’s been looking for work since August.

Lei Bingjian (voice of interpreter): Employers are pickier than just a few months ago. They want more experience, better English skills. I want a job in shipping logistics, but the global crisis has hit the export sector hard.

And he doesn’t hold the societal trump card: connections to important people. Lei says he wants to work for a multinational company, but they’re hardly hiring, so he’ll trade down. You hear a lot of that.

One graduate sells pork at a food market. Others have joined the military or become nannies. And the very desperate try plastic surgery, says student rapper Fang Meihui:

Fang Meihui (voice of interpreter): For ladies, yes — in certain industries, companies want to recruit employees who are beautiful and shapely.

Chinese leaders openly fret about jobless graduates. Disenchanted students led the protests at Tiananmen Square 20 years ago. Today, though, there’s little sense of revolt; most of this generation hasn’t even heard of Tiananmen bloodshed. Government censors are working hard. Maybe they’re hiring.

In Shanghai, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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