- Language Tips
Degree in hand, some new graduates take on jobs formerly seen as menial
While most college graduates in China are competing for jobs in office blocks, Hai Yang says he found his calling at the chopping block.
The 25-year-old has a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the United States.
Trainees with the butcher school run by Farm Pork No 1 in Shanghai take part in a meat cutting exam. Among the first batch of 60 graduates from the training school, half have bachelor’s degrees.Ma Jun / for China Daily
But, on his return home last year, he stunned family and friends by opting to work as a butcher.
"It's not just about cutting meat. The job requires a lot of skill," he said, dismissing the common perception in China that butchering is too menial for a graduate.
Hai works at a market in Shanghai's Minhang district for Farm Pork No 1, where he is not its only highly educated employee.
The meat company, based in Guangdong province, says it has recruited about 600 college graduates as butchers, about a third of its workforce, since it started in 2007.
"Times are changing," said founder Chen Sheng, who has a degree in economics from Peking University. "Although it still isn't widely accepted, there are some young people who want to give butchering a whirl. Being a butcher is perceived as a rough and rude profession, but our employees are trained and have professional skills."
As well as having outlets in several cities, Farm Pork No 1 runs training schools in Guangdong and in Shanghai. The Shanghai school produced its first batch of 60 butchers this month. Half of them were college graduates.
Hai described the 30-day training course, completed in Guangdong, as "extremely tough".
The first week is like military boot camp, where the physically weak are eliminated," he said. "We got up at 3:30 am every day to exercise for about two hours chopping sticks to strengthen our wrists."
The hard work has paid off. Today he says he can expertly carve a chunk of pork and estimates he can sell the equivalent of two pigs a day at the market.
Hai said he wants to eventually become a manager at the company.
"My major in university was business," he said. "I think it'll come in handy in the future."
The discussion about whether a meat market is a suitable place for a graduate began in earnest in 2000 when Peking University alumni Lu Buxuan made headlines for getting a job selling pork in Xi'an, Shaanxi province.
More than a decade on, being a butcher is still seen as an undesirable career path among educated youths.
Hai said his family was initially against the decision.
"My parents were not happy. They had hoped I would work at a multinational company," he said. "It's understandable. But as they began to understand the (meat) industry, they began to support my decision."
According to a survey this year by Renren, a social networking website, jobs with the government or State-owned companies are the most coveted by graduates.
"China has had a tough job market in recent years, but actually many industries still need a large number of high-level talents, such as road cleaners and butchers," said Gu Xiaoming, a sociologist at Shanghai Fudan University.
"The problem is, these jobs are not highly regarded," Gu said. "People with a good education can help push an industry's development, even road cleaning."