Graduates struggling with slim job market

Updated: 2007-03-17 12:55

HOHHOT -- The year's first recruitment fair in Hohhot was coming to a close at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. The CV-waving crowd was gone, companies were leaving and sanitation workers were tearing posters off the walls.

Ji Rentai was still trying to strike up a conservation with the manager of a Beijing-based technology firm, but his sixth attempt to fix an interview that day failed again.

"They said I don't have the experience, but that's unfair," said the e-commerce major who graduated from a local IT institute last summer. "They are expecting too much from new graduates."

Ji chose e-commerce out of his love for computers, but the underdeveloped Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region offers far fewer jobs in the sector compared with the increasing number of new graduates in recent years.

A year after he began to seriously look for a job, Ji is still unemployed. He joined a local network company last September, but the job lasted for only four months. "The boss said they didn't need so many people."

Despite his frustrating experience, Ji is unwilling to become a salesman, a job that is more available in the regional capital Hohhot. "I prefer a technical job."

China's job market is slim this year with 4.95 million new graduates from nationwide colleges and universities, 820,000 more than last year, the Ministry of Education said.

In Beijing, the number of university graduates will reach an all-time high of nearly 200,000, while only about 87,000 graduate jobs are expected to be on offer, according to Beijing Personnel Bureau.

The white-hot competition has forced many students to buy expensive clothing and even receive plastic surgery in order to stand out in the large crowd of job seekers.

A college graduate in the southwestern Chongqing Municipality reportedly spent 20,000 yuan (2,565 U.S. dollars) in her year-long quest for a job between 2005 and 2006, according to the detailed accounts kept for her by her mother, an accountant.

The girl, named Jingzi, attended extracurricular English, computer and accounting courses, sat for an English proficiency test and got a driving license, which she hoped would bring more job opportunities.

She traveled to five provinces last year to attend their recruitment tests for public servants, with each trip costing more than 2,000 yuan.

Jingzi was lucky: upon her graduation last summer she found a white-collar job in Chongqing that paid 2,000 yuan a month, while many of her peers had spent just as much but of no avail.

About 30 percent, or 1.2 million, of last year's 4.13 million college graduates did not find a job upon graduation, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

This surplus of laborers have somehow allowed the employers to be more picky in hiring people.

Wang Lin, a senior finance student in Beijing, was shocked to find one of his job interviews was in a restaurant. "I had applied for a job in the company's sales department, and after a 10-member panel bombarded me with questions, I was told to mimic a sales executive treating my potential 'customers' to dinner."

In China, many business deals are stricken at the dinner table. "The company was trying to test if I could drink liquor and tactfully talk the 'customers' into reaching a deal with me," said Wang.

The recruitment officer called the next day to tell him he failed in the test. "He didn't say why, but I guess it was because I didn't do well enough at the dinner table -- I wasn't prepared for that and I never learned to drink."

The glut of graduates have also caused some employers to underuse well-educated people, said Zheng Gongcheng, a Renmin University professor and a deputy to the National People's Congress.

"Some Chinese banks, for example, hire master degree holders to work as tellers," he said. "It's a waste of human resources and disrupts the order of the job market -- where can they put people with lower degrees then?"

China's draft law on employment promotion, which has been examined by the lawmakers and is to be enacted this year, should spell out punishment for such discrimination, said Zheng.

The draft law prohibits discrimination against job seekers despite their ethnicity, race, gender, religious belief, age or physical disability. It also requires governments above county level to establish early warning systems to prevent and control large-scale unemployment.

Meanwhile, experts say schools should adapt their courses to the job market demands and help students with more convincing career plans instead of just cramming for exams.

Xue Ying, president of Beijing IMAP Education Research Institute, said career planning should start in senior high school, before a student decides his area of study at college.

"We found at least 40 percent of university students are unhappy with their majors, and 65 percent said they'd switch majors if they were allowed."

Under the current education system, 280 majors are for science students choose and 160 ones for arts students. Once they have been admitted, it's extremely difficult for them to switch majors unless they retake the college entrance exam.

"It's important to help students recognize their own professional aptitude at an earlier age so they can fully exploit their talents," said Xue, whose institute offers professional aptitude tests to people of all ages and gives professional recruitment advice to graduates.

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