SHANGHAI: As China limps back to normalcy after COVID-19 outbreak, job prospects in the country seem to be truly bleak especially for the nine million students or so who are due to graduate in June.
The Chinese leadership has been fearing that the graduates will enter the workforce as prospective employers mull lay-offs or hiring freezes. The leadership’s biggest worry is unemployment, according to The Economist.
In February, the urban jobless rate jumped to 6.2 per cent, the highest ever. It fell slightly to 5.9 per cent in March as businesses reopened. Urban unemployment could reach 10 per cent this year, as per the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of The Economist.
China’s leaders describe the problem of graduate unemployment as a matter of “paramount importance”, the weekly magazine stated. In recent days, university officials around the country have been holding meetings to discuss how to ensure that as many as possible find jobs. They have often used similar language, stressing the “urgency” of this “political task” relating to “social stability”.
Jobless migrants make the leadership anxious, but the party frets more about threats involving better-educated people with urban roots and strong social networks, the magazine said.
Last year, just over half of the entrants to China’s urban workforce were university graduates. Usually, about 60 per cent of them get hired by small and medium-sized enterprises. But such firms have been among those hardest-hit by the coronavirus, the magazine reported citing official figures.
On April 14, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told his cabinet that the situation for this year’s graduates was “grim”.
Companies normally begin scouring campuses for recruits soon after the spring-festival holiday but this time, however, with universities shut and big gatherings banned, the entire process was “wiped out”, a business veteran was quoted as saying by The Economist.
As per reports, some employers have also gone digital, using video interviews and online tests. But many, reeling from the impact of work stoppages and still-tepid consumer demand, have cut hiring.
The magazine cited a survey of one million companies by Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management and Zhaopin, a job-search site, which found that there were 30 per cent fewer openings in the first quarter compared with last year. Those for fresh graduates in finance fell by more than 50 per cent this spring, according to Boss Zhipin, another recruitment website –even as the number of final-year students searching for a job rose by half.
Competition for graduate jobs had already grown from fierce to cut-throat in recent years, particularly for the most prestigious positions.
To satisfy such demand, the leadership has promised more openings in the civil service (not least in rural areas) as well as in the army. They have also directed state-owned businesses to boost their recruitment of new graduates.
Sinopec, an oil giant, is hiring another 3,500 on top of the 6,600-odd it has already taken on –the most people it has ever signed up in a year.
Other state-owned firms are also taking on record numbers. They are giving preference to graduates from Hubei province, where the outbreak began, in response to an appeal from the central government that firms should stop discriminating against the residents of such provinces, which are often treated with suspicion because of their reputation as a COVID-19 disaster zone, the magazine reported.
Graduating at a time of such economic hardship could be more than just a temporary setback. Professor Li Jin of the University of Hong Kong told The Economist that the pandemic can have “a huge impact” on lifetime earnings of the graduates.