China’s cautious new graduates flock to state-backed jobs



University graduates attend a career fair at Shandong University of Science and Technology on March 20, 2021 in Qingdao, China.

Zhang Jingang | China Visual Group | Getty Images

BEIJJNG – Despite China’s rapid recovery from the pandemic, many local graduates are choosing state-supported jobs or delaying their entry into the workforce.

China was the only major economy to grow in 2020. But more than a year after the start of the pandemic, the 2021 class still faces pressure from high housing costs, international travel restrictions and an environment extremely competitive.

Over the past month, CNBC spoke to more than ten local and international students from higher education programs based in mainland China. Many sources have requested anonymity so that their names are not associated with a foreign news organization. While these anecdotes don’t sound like qualitative research, they do reflect general employment trends for what is expected to be a record 9.09 million graduates in China this year.

A 24-year-old woman who requested anonymity said she had accepted an offer from a major Beijing bank for job security. After the pandemic, undersized or private businesses did not appear to be as stable as state-owned ones, she said.

Many of the women in her class also preferred jobs in state-owned companies, she said, noting that male classmates tended to work at tech companies, where the pay is higher but the hours are long. longer.

The trend is national. Chinese recruiting site Zhaopin found that 42.5% of graduate students said state-owned companies were their first choice for a job – up from 36% last year.

On the other hand, the percentage choosing the private sector rose from 25.1% to 19%. Students were less likely to enter the workforce overall – the study found an 18.9 percentage point drop in the number of graduates in traditional jobs. Instead, more have decided to work freelance, take a year off, or pursue higher education.

“By the time I started to think about work, the pandemic was already very serious,” said a master’s student at the China University of Communication in Beijing, who requested anonymity. That’s according to a CNBC translation of the Mandarin interview.

The 28-year-old spent the pandemic at his home in northern Heilongjiang Province studying, then took an exam for doctoral studies. “It’s not that easy to find a job this year,” he said, although he is confident that solutions will emerge for any problems he may face.

Due to greater interest in higher education programs, competition among applicants is intensifying. A record 3.77 million people took the master’s exam in December, according to state media.

The number of test takers for civil service positions also increased last year, reaching 1.57 million people. They competed for 25,700 jobs.

Another Communication University student, Qu Zhiyuan, 25, said her high school and middle school mates in eastern Shandong Province are struggling to find a job. Even for low-level government jobs, she said there were competition complaints from Chinese returning from overseas studies.

“I feel like I’m the most different,” Qu said in Mandarin, according to a CNBC translation. While most of her classmates are taking exams for positions in the civil service or in a public company, or going into finance, she said she is taking a job with a film producer and distributor in Beijing. .

Rather than worrying about her own future – whether he takes her to France or the United States – she worries about how capital can manipulate people. “Big data can calculate when (the public) will cry,” she said.

If graduates pursue jobs, salaries are generally lower than they were in 2019, according to Zhaopin. More than 40% of students expect a monthly salary of between 4,000 and 6,000 yuan ($ 625-937.50), according to the report, noting that the highest-paying tech industry was by far the most sought-after .

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A 26-year-old music studies graduate, who requested anonymity, grew up in west-central Gansu province and is seeking employment in the tech industry in the area around the coastal metropolis of Shanghai – which, according to him, will be well paid. sufficient to support his study abroad plans.

He is ready to stay abroad for the long term and hopes to get married once his professional situation stabilizes. His longtime girlfriend intends to go to Europe later this year, he said.

Many mainland Chinese students have suspended their study abroad plans, or even indefinitely, due to the pandemic and geopolitical tensions.

Covid and visa restrictions are bigger challenges for going abroad than rejection by schools, said Xie Hangjian, 22. He said about half of his friends plan to pursue a master’s degree abroad.

Xie is a graduate of the NYU joint venture in Shanghai and has a prominent job at a major US investment bank in the city.

“Despite the Covid and the worsening geopolitical situation, some of the largest multinational companies are still hiring a lot of new graduates, especially in mainland China,” he said, referring to the economic recovery.

Opportunities for foreign students

International students remained interested in China, with a record over 16,000 foreign applicants for NYU Shanghai’s 500 undergraduate places this fall. A one-year master’s program in Beijing launched by Blackstone founder Steve Schwarzman received 3,600 applicants for the fall, up from 4,700 the year before.

Although she was unable to enter China due to virus-related visa restrictions, Schwarzman Scholar and New Zealand resident Nina Jeffs, 23, said she was able to complete an internship remotely during the course. of the last year in a start-up, where she discovered Chinese culture at work. and sustainable aviation fuels.

“It’s easy to forget that China is just a huge and very diverse country and I think that’s something I’ve understood a lot better this year,” she said.

After graduation, Jeffs will work with a think tank to research a climate change policy that supports greater gender equality, a topic she began exploring during the masters program. She hopes to visit China for part of this research.

For foreign students able to enter and stay in China, many remain excited about local growth.

Despite earning less than options in the US or Europe, John Dopp, 22, plans to stay in China, where he landed a job in the overseas marketing team of a Chinese video game company. Dopp, an American, graduated in finance from NYU Shanghai.

“I’m really excited to start my career here just because I feel like there are so many opportunities,” he said, noting that many Chinese companies are looking for foreigners to help their businesses. to expand abroad.


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