In the midst of a record high youth unemployment rate, China finds itself in a risky situation. Over 11.6 million students are set to graduate, stepping into a jobs market with scarce opportunities. The acute problem of overeducated and unemployed young people stirs up a great deal of concern and frustration. Graduates, like Ingrid Xie with her master’s degree from Australia, are having to settle for jobs far below their qualifications or expectations. Xie shares her dismay, “It makes me really frustrated”.
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- Record high youth unemployment in China, reaching 20.4% among 16-24 year-olds.
- Nearly 11.6 million Chinese students are graduating into a hostile labour market.
- The number of graduates majoring in sports and education has increased by over 20%.
- The government’s sudden ban on for-profit tutoring in 2021 has severely impacted the job market for recent graduates.
- The value of an international degree has diminished in China’s jobs markets.
The Unemployment Crisis
China’s economy is battling a concerning mismatch between available jobs and the qualifications of jobseekers. The unemployment situation among Chinese graduates, particularly in the 16-24 year-old bracket, has hit a record high. A staggering 20.4% of these jobseekers are unable to find work. This has led to a surge in overeducated young people unable to secure employment matching their qualifications, leading to a significant amount of frustration and disillusionment. Xie’s experiences underscore this reality: “a lot of people studied abroad and want the same thing”, she comments on the intense competition for jobs.
A Shifting Jobs Market and Government Response
The Chinese job market has undergone several changes that have left it hostile for graduates. Notably, a sudden government ban on for-profit tutoring in 2021 decimated an industry worth $150bn, negatively impacting the employment prospects for recent graduates who previously looked to tutoring as a stepping stone into the education sector. In response to the escalating unemployment crisis, the government has introduced policies to stimulate the jobs market. These include subsidies for companies hiring unemployed university graduates and a target to create 12m urban jobs this year.
The surge in unemployment among graduates, particularly those with international degrees, has raised serious questions about the relevance of such qualifications in the contemporary Chinese job market. In the past, international degrees were often seen as a ticket to a promising career path. However, this perception seems to be changing. As Eric Fish, author of a book about Chinese millennials, puts it:
“Some recruiters think that students might have inflated expectations or are too westernised.”
This shift in perception, coupled with the current unemployment crisis, has created a challenging environment for Chinese graduates seeking meaningful employment opportunities in line with their qualifications. These changing attitudes towards education and qualifications are shaping the labour market in significant ways, leading to an imperative for re-evaluation of the true value of an international degree in the modern Chinese economy.
“Overeducated” Young People in China
Despite the grim outlook, it’s crucial to challenge the growing perception of “overeducated” young people. This label, often used to describe university graduates who struggle to find work matching their qualifications, risks oversimplifying the issue and places the blame on the individual. Instead, focus should be placed on the systemic issues, like mismatched qualifications and available jobs, contributing to this high unemployment rate.
The Bottom Line
The plight of Chinese graduates, facing an unprecedented youth unemployment rate and a shrinking jobs market, paints a worrying picture of the current state of China’s economy. Despite these graduates’ qualifications and abilities, they are finding it increasingly challenging to secure suitable employment. Xie laments, “What I’m looking for is enough private time and a job with work-life balance but I can’t find that.” The government’s response has been geared towards stimulating the jobs market and providing relief, but the long-term effectiveness of these measures remains to be seen. However, the solution is not as simple as reducing the perceived overeducation of Chinese millennials. Instead, a more nuanced understanding and holistic solution, addressing the mismatch between the skills acquired and the jobs available, is necessary. This issue extends beyond the Asia Pacific and is a global concern, underscoring the need for effective solutions to combat rising youth unemployment rates worldwide.
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