Feng Xin: In the last episode of Digest China, we asked a number of employers what makes it difficult for them to recruit workers, and more importantly, ideal workers. The experts we interviewed said the changes in China's economic structure and work force, the expansion of China's higher education and the dissymmetry in the expectation between employers and college graduates all contribute to employers' recruitment troubles. But what does the picture look like from a job seeker's point of view? While official statistics show China's available jobs actually outnumber job seekers, why do we often hear stories about college graduates unable to find jobs? Before getting into these questions, I'd like to take you to a couple of job fairs.
Reporter: How many resumes have you sent out so far?
Respondent: About 20.
Respondent: About 40 or 50.
Respondent: I have sent – I don't know how many.
Reporter: Is the job you are applying for relevant to your major?
Respondent: Not really. The internship I did in the past six months wasn't relevant to my major, anyway.
Reporter: What's your biggest difficulty in finding a job? Or how do you feel about your job search?
Respondent: More and more confused. I don't even know how to look at myself any more.
Respondent: I think there are many jobs out there, but few met my expectations.
Respondent: I haven't thought certain things through or made a plan for my personal development.
Respondent: Employers usually prefer those who have experiences. And a lot of companies don't have vacancies right now. It's quite difficult to get in a good company. By good companies, I mean those everybody knows.
Respondent: I think companies should give college graduates an opportunity. Since graduates don't have much experience, they need to start from the basics and learn gradually. But some companies aren't willing to train college graduates.
Respondent: More than 50 percent of job seekers nowadays choose jobs irrelevant to their majors. If they do that, they will feel very confused. I am in that kind of a mode right now. The reason behind this phenomenon, I think, is that when we were taking our college entrance exams and choosing majors, we didn't know what our passion was. Nor did we know the prospect of the majors we chose.
Respondent: I think our higher education is somewhat out of line with the society.
Reporter: While you are looking for a job, what are some of the qualities you find employers value but you are not equipped with?
Respondent: Whatever you do, you need to have a strong team spirit, as well as some basic professional skills.
Respondent: Level of experience.
Respondent: Adaptability and marketing skills. Also, speech skills.
Respondent: People skills and strong communication skills.
Reporter: Which word would you use to describe your job search?
Respondent: Complex, chaotic and overwhelming.
Respondent: Still a long way to go.
Feng Xin: How does China's job market look to graduates who just left college, given the fact that the Chinese government just announced the country's GDP growth slowed to a three-year low of 7.6 percent in the second quarter of 2012. On July 25, I attended the quarterly press conference held by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.
Yin Chengji: Starting this year, as you said, our economic growth has slowed down as the country's macro-control policy planned. This has affected East China regions in particular. The number of new jobs in cities tends to go down. But in Central and West China, new jobs are still growing steadily.
The spokesperson said the second half of 2012 will be particularly stressful on job seekers, since a large number of new workers will flood into the job market. Secondly, employers will be seeking a growing number of skilled workers, of which there is a shortage.
In 2011, China provided nearly 20.7 million jobs for 19.6 million job seekers. This means for every 100 candidates there were 106 jobs available. The ratio went up to 100:108 in the first quarter of 2012. These numbers come from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security's job market monitoring of about 100 Chinese cities.Eighty-eight percent of employers have specific education requirements for job candidates. Many require a high school education. Of that 38.5 percent, more than 60 percent require professional diplomas. Of employers who do have education requirements, only 8.5 percent require university diplomas or bachelor's degrees.
In March, My China Occupational Skills, or MyCOS, an independent research institute, conducted a survey of more than 250,000 college graduates from more than 2,000 Chinese universities and colleges. According to MyCOS, China had 6 million college graduates in 2011, and 90.2 percent of them found jobs six months after they graduated. However, the institute estimates that 14 percent of these employed college graduates are working in fields irrelevant to their majors and in the bottom 25 percent in terms of income in their local regions.
MyCOS categorizes university and college majors into red, yellow and green signs. Red indicates majors that receive the highest unemployment rate, lowest wages and most dissatisfaction from employees. Green sign majors, however, indicate the best ones in terms of these criteria, and the yellow sign majors sit in the middle. According to MyCOS's ratings, red sign university majors include popular ones like animation, law, biotechnology, biological engineering, English and international economics and trade. The yellow sign category includes majors like computer science, art, design, business administration and Chinese language and literature. The green sign category, however, includes majors like geological engineering, petroleum engineering, mining engineering, naval architecture and ocean engineering and auditing.
What can such categorization tell us? We talked to Guo Jiao, MyCOS' chief research officer.
Feng Xin: We often see the situation of employers having difficulties in finding people they want, while jobseekers can't find the employers (they want). How does this happen?
Guo Jiao: This is what we often call a "mismatch." Like you said, it's a mismatch between employers' needs and college graduates' expectations. There are two sides of the story. One the one hand, take the green sign majors like engineering as an example. Not all universities can provide students with relevant training in a short time and turn them into the type of talent that industries need. Universities can't fill in the gap.On the other hand, those graduates, especially Chinese graduates, were made to choose certain majors when they were about to enter college. Their majors were possibly determined by their parents or even their high school teachers. When they do go to college – there is something special about China's higher education – if a student wants to switch majors or transfer to another college, the odds are very small, and it won't be cost-efficient. Therefore, the mismatch might have happened as early as they took the college entrance exam and first entered college.
Under such circumstances, when a large number of graduates quit their job within six months, universities should be thinking whether they should prepare graduates with their first jobs or the jobs students will have in three, five or 10 years – the jobs that really meet each individual's prospects. These jobs may also be their last jobs.
Feng Xin: What's your opinion? What should colleges consider?
Guo Jiao: Colleges should track their graduates' job-searching processes as well as their career status three or five years after they have graduated. (Colleges should see) what essential skills graduates need but weren't equipped with at college.
If the mismatch between the job market's needs and students' choice of majors existed from the first day of college, is it a good idea to work in a field irrelevant to one's major after he or she graduates? We directed this question through a studio call to Chen Yu, who is the vice-chairman of the China Association for Employment Promotion.
Chen Yu: I don't necessarily think you have to work in fields relevant to your major. In fact, universities provide a sort of general training. It would be ideal if you could use some of what you learned in your major after you found your job. Even if you can't, your knowledge can still be helpful in some ways. In fact, it's more important to grasp some transferrable skills at college, which we call "core skills," like communicating with people and expressing oneself. Indeed, the most challenging task at the workplace is communication. The cost of doing so is very high. It applies to companies, as well. Communication, problem-solving, self-enrichment and teamwork – these skills are perhaps even more important than some specific curriculum.
If transferrable skills such as communication and problem-solving are sometimes even more important than academic knowledge students learn at college, then what is the purpose of higher education? We directed our questions to Xiong Bingqi, the vice-president at the 21 Century Education Research Institute. He's written a number of books on China's higher education.
Xiong Bingqi: There are three types of education: elite education, mass education and vocational education. At universities offering mass education, the boundaries between majors are mild. They mainly focus on developing students' basic skills and qualities. It's quite normal for these students to choose jobs irrelevant to their majors. I think as society develops, more and more students will choose jobs irrelevant to their majors. Under such circumstances, majors, in fact, are merely platforms where students can be trained. If you evaluate the efficiency of education only based on the degree of match between majors and jobs, you are quite outdated.
Feng Xin: You just mentioned "elite education". What kind of education is that?
Xiong Bingqi: Elite education is not to cultivate the so-called "elites". Elite education is indeed mass education, which focuses on developing students' basic skills and qualities. Now these schools are considered good universities, because they concentrate high-quality education resources. Therefore, we now have formed a singular chain: Students have to attend good elementary schools, good secondary schools, good high schools, good colleges, and (will eventually get) good jobs. Only such a chain of personal development is recognized by the society.
Feng Xin: You just mentioned we have mass education, vocational education and elite education. Then, my question is: What exactly is the purpose of higher education?
Xiong Bingqi: In fact, it is to fulfill different needs and values. That is to say, to help every individual become complete. If we only focus on one of the values higher education offers – that of finding jobs or its utilitarian value – the spirit of higher education will be corrupted. As a result, the whole society will be dragged into a very utilitarian environment.
Feng Xin: Dr Xiong, some college graduates we interviewed told us they felt very confused when looking for jobs. They had no idea what they can do or want to do. What factors do you think have contributed to their confusion?
Xiong Bingqi: I think it has to do with China's entire education system and social environment. During the phase of basic education, a lot of students are taken care of by their parents and teachers in terms of everything. They are planned and managed. They rarely have the ability and sense of self-planning and self-management. Even when they go to college, this kind of education is still just scratching the surface. The Ministry of Education has formally required all universities to offer career-planning courses, but very few universities have really done that. In many schools, career planning means only one or two lectures about some policies. During university years, students can hardly analyze their personalities, skills or career prospective.
Some students think it's good to have career-planning education at high schools, but this is meaningless at the same time. I took career-planning courses, I learned the importance of career planning, but in reality I can't plan my future. I want to choose courses that interest me, but do schools offer them to me? Or, do I really dare to choose those courses? They don't even have any room for choices, let alone the ability to choose. We grew up in a "planned system". But when we are out finding jobs, it turns into a "market system". It's time to make choices, but students don't know how. What's the consequence? The consequence is China's students, who spend 12 years working hard in order to spend another four years working hard in college, eventually become unwanted people in the society. This is the price we pay.
In the most recent episode of Digest China, we asked a number of employers what makes it difficult for them to recruit workers, and more importantly, ideal workers. The experts we interviewed said, the changes in China's economic structure and work force, the expansion of China's higher education and the dissymmetry in expectations between employers and college graduates all contribute to employers' recruitment troubles. But what does the picture look like from a job seeker's point of view? While official statistics show China's available jobs actually outnumber job seekers, why do we often hear stories about college graduates unable to find jobs? Find out in our newest episode.