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Human Resources and Social Security, stressed at a press conference in January 2013 that promoting employment for graduates has become a top priority for the government, the first time the State has favored graduates over migrant workers in its labor provisions. The ministry also called upon China’s SMEs to play a leading role in providing job opportunities for college students.

College students prepare for a graduate school examination

Despite government promises, Chinese college students and their parents remain wedded to the notion of holding down a coveted job for life in a Stateowned enterprise (SOE) or the country’s civil service. Second choice is a foreign company, most of which have more generous salaries, benefits and working conditions than home-grown alternatives. Few aspire to work at a Chinese company in the private sector, which is broadly seen as a dead-end, only good for skills acquisition, or as a stop-gap. “While waiting for replies to dozens of applications, I was so anxious that I just wanted to be alone,” said Wang Bo, a rural graduate working for a Danish fashion company in Beijing. “It’s not difficult for us to find a job, but very difficult to find a good job which can launch a career,” she said. A “good job” for Wang’s generation, as for that of her parents, means the public sector. SMEs simply don’t pay well enough, and few public sector employees are hired out of the private sector, Wang told NewsChina. SMEs, for their part, also don’t appear to be very interested in hiring from the growing pool of unemployed graduates. Experience teaches these entrepreneurs that many graduates only resort to private sector jobs in the hope that they will make their resumes sufficiently appealing to allow them to “upgrade” to a State or overseas post. Mr Yu, a manager working for a medium-sized textile plant told our reporter that “enterprises are reluctant to provide skills training to graduate students because they won’t stay long.”

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Others find themselves having to train their entire workforce from scratch, regardless of their qualifications. “They [graduates] know too little about the skills manufacturing enterprises need,” Mr Huang, the factory owner, complained to our reporter. Currently, neither side seems keen to change their habits. This is bad news not only for Yin Chengji’s vision of a private sector brimming with bright-eyed, college-educated go-getters. Private SMEs are the backbone of China’s manufacturing power, and the main architects of the country’s prosperity. Besides engineers, these companies need designers, accountants, lawyers, salespeople and managers who provide integrated services to build their brands on the market. Development of this manufacturing-oriented service sector, which is still disproportionately weak, needs a pool of highly qualified employees that China simply doesn’t have. Even in the US, where the share of GDP attributed to manufacturing has been down for years, the sector remains lauded for its innovation, and as the pride of US industry. In the 2013 Global Manufacturing Competitive Index survey by Deloitte, 58 percent of CEOs surveyed believed China was “very competitive” in terms of talent-driven innovation, a rate only slightly higher than that of India and 35 percent lower than the US. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, concluded in its report in January 2013 on China’s competitiveness that, with heavy reliance on imported technologies, China “will not have a dominant position in the world economy, like the US did in the 1960s.” For graduates, the public sector may not be the best choice for their career. It is very common to hear young civil servants and employees of SOEs complain about the lack of a competitive dynamic in their organizations and the myriad “hidden rules” which value direct personal ties to higher-ups over ability in almost all cases.

Intervention

When the market remains unresponsive, the government must step in to correct its ‘failures,’” Professor Cai told our reporter. He argued that compulsory education should be extended to include at least three years of high school, and that college tuition fees should be reduced. These changes, though hardly sufficient to cancel out the immediate financial benefits of heading immediately into the workplace at 15 or 16, would at least incentivize higher education and skills training among young people, in his view. Wu Hao, a hairdresser in Beijing, has learned CHINA WEEKLY I March 2013

April 2013  

April 2013 Issue

April 2013  

April 2013 Issue

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