Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Unemployment Blues

When I lived in Beijing from 2007 to 2010, I worked in a state-owned enterprise. There was lots of bureaucracy and it was very regimented. At 10.30am and 3pm an outdated woman's voice from the 60s would erupt the silence and the recording instructed people to stop and do eye exercises.

Hardly anyone bothered to obey the voice and continued working while hearing this old school music while she chanted "one, two, three, four" and telling people what to do. Finally I asked someone what this was about and they explained these were eye exercises they did in elementary school, but not anymore. So why continue to broadcast this if no one was doing it?

But it's a state-owned company and it just follows the rules.

Like every other company, there were many people who didn't seem to do anything at work all day. Or they tried to look busy. When fresh graduates started work with us, they went through the same rite of passage.

At first they were eager to begin their careers and make a difference in the world. However, they soon saw how work was a monotonous chore people did, day in and day out. The smart ones got out quickly, while the others, who didn't mind having much to do and being paid for it, stayed on.

Many of these graduates weren't the cream of the crop -- but rather a government directive to state-owned enterprises to absorb a number of them to keep unemployment numbers down.

It didn't matter what if anything these fresh grads were doing -- as long as they had a "job" it was fine. But really they weren't learning much or doing anything particularly useful.

This made me realize that in China there are not enough jobs for educated people. There are lots of factory jobs, but no university graduate will do a job that is physically demanding -- that's why they got a degree in the first place!

Many refused to get low-paying jobs, or ones that were not related to their fields because they felt they had special knowledge that should be used. They wanted to hold out for a better job, but they soon realized if they did not graduate from Peking University of Tsinghua University, they were not going to get the best jobs, let alone the top-paying ones.

So they had to lower their standards, lower and lower. It's gotten to the point where there are too many graduates.

A record seven million will graduate this year, but less than half of them will find work.

That's because the economy is slowing down and companies are unsure of what the future will bring.

While Premier Li Keqiang recently led the cabinet meeting on May 16 ordering schools, government agencies and state-owned enterprises to hire more graduates, it's a short-term solution and hardly a productive long-term measure.

The State Council has encouraged young people to get jobs at small private companies, but since these fresh graduates are of the "only child" generation, they are not as keen to take risks and would rather have a steady long-term job.

A prominent broadcaster named Wang Zhian created an uproar when he wrote on his microblog that graduates should take jobs at moving companies, packing and unpacking customers' items.

The young people didn't take too kindly of his advice of doing manual labour.

However, he said: "The most important thing for [new graduates] is to figure out a way to survive, and if that means you have to become a moving company worker, then so be it. You can't live off your parents forever."

I agree. Students in China don't have the culture of working summer jobs when they are in school so they don't understand how hard it is to make a living, let alone appreciate what their parents have provided for them.

They need some "toughening up" and gaining any kind of work experience, no matter how lowly is better than just having an academic degree.

How many will actually take Wang's advice will probably only be a handful, but they will be ahead of the others in terms of learning how to make lemonade out of lemons.

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