Sign Up! | Make Asianlife your home page
Meet People
Job Board
Subscribe to our newsletter
Interested in writing for Contact us at
Q. Have you seen ‘Crazy Rich Asians?’
* The poll results will be displayed after you vote.
Wednesday July 20, 2011

Young and Unemployed

Martin Patience

There are approximately 81 million young people around the world actively looking for work, according to the UN. In most countries, 15-24 years olds are more than three times as likely to be unemployed than older adults. The BBC's Martin Patience reports from a job fair in Beijing, where competition for jobs is fierce.

Armed with their resumes, the job-seekers prowl the cavernous exhibition hall, searching the job fair for any sign of an opportunity.

More than 200 businesses have representatives sitting at kiosks.

There are a variety of industries and sectors advertising positions, ranging from tourism to teaching, mining to banking.

Then there was the more specific: a position as a professional shoe-shiner.

One of those looking for work was Zhang Hui Li.

"It's kind of hard to find a job in Beijing," said the 24-year-old business graduate.

China's economy continues to boom which means there are low levels of unemployment, but one of the big changes to the country's job market in recent years is the increasing number of university graduates seeking work.

There are now six times as many graduates as there were a decade ago - over six million in total. The figure is the highest number of graduates anywhere in the world.

But while there are greater opportunities than before, the competition is getting tougher.

The real challenge is getting a good job.

This year, more than 1.4 million people applied for civil service jobs when there were only 16,000 positions on offer.

Despite only graduating last month, Zhang Hui Li said she had already applied for 30 jobs.

"Some of my friends have applied for more than 100," she said.

'No specific skills'

The authorities are trying to slow down the expansion of higher education.

"They realise it's a problem to produce students with high expectations," said Zhang Dong Hui, an associate professor of public policy at Renmin University in Beijing.

That sense of expectation is growing. China has been transformed by economic reforms in the last three decades: long gone are the days when jobs were assigned by the government - that ended in 1981.

Private businesses have flourished helping to make this the second largest economy in the world.

However, Xie Yan, a successful property developer whose company employs dozens of people, believes that many Chinese graduates simply are not good enough.

"These graduates from the universities, seemingly they can do everything," he said.

"Many of them have learned a lot very sophisticated stuff. But in fact, they have no specific skills.

"The ability of some graduates can't even compare with that of a craftsman."

One child policy

A few days after the job fair, I caught up with Zhang Hui Li.

In that time, she found a job, started it, and then decided to quit. "It wasn't the perfect job for me," she said.

Zhang Hui Li admits she is lucky - her parents pay for her apartment in the central Beijing while she looks for work.

But in China, it is not just about finding a job to support yourself.

Because of the country's one-child policy, it is likely graduates will have to support their parents and possibly two sets of grandparents as well.

With little help from the state, there can be enormous pressure to find a well-paid job.

"I don't worry about my future right now," said Zhang Hui Li, but she says that when her parents become elderly the pressure will grow.

As for the job hunt, Zhang Hui Li remains optimistic.

"It's only a matter of time before I get a good job," she said.

This feature is from a BBC World Service series looking at the challenges facing young people across the globe as they try to enter the job market. You can listen to more on Newshour at 1300GMT

Copyright © 2022 AsianLife All rights reserved.