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China's graduates fight for a future

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Beijing

Graduates attend a packed job fair in China, Nov 08
More than six million graduates in China are seeking work

China's graduates will find it tougher than ever to get jobs in the coming year, as China's economy slows down and unemployment rises.

Experts say a chronic over-supply of graduates and a shortage of "high end" jobs had already been causing difficulties, but the mass lay-offs and business closures in recent months has made the situation even worse.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has told students that the problem of graduate employment is "at the top of the government's agenda".

Six and a half million graduates in China will be looking for a job over the next year.

The government says it is going to try to create nine million jobs for them and for those from previous years who are still unemployed.

That will not be easy though. Economic growth in China is expected by some to fall below the figure of 8%, cited by many as the minimum needed to continue to create enough jobs.

There are three problems for the new graduates to cope with.

Firstly the economic slowdown here means there are fewer jobs available.

Secondly widespread redundancies mean there are more experienced people than there might have been in previous years, trying to secure the same jobs as them.

Thirdly there are many graduates from previous years who are still jobless.

Shattered hopes

Cao Shanshan studied exhibition planning and management at Shanghai Business School.

She said everyone thought it would be easy for her to get a job when she graduated, because Shanghai will host the World Expo in 2010.

Cao Shanshan
Graduates such as Cao Shanshan take low-paying jobs, if they are lucky

But even though she has had dozens of interviews at job fairs, she has not managed to land the kind of job she wanted.

"I've ended up with an intern job," she says, "which is nothing to do with my major."

She says she is earning about $230 (159) a month, more than many of her classmates who have had to take jobs that give them half that, but far less than she had hoped for.

"I might go back to school to study for a masters degree because it's so hard," she says. "Hopefully finding a job will be easier with a higher qualification."

Over-achievers?

Some students from the very top universities will of course still be able to get well paid jobs, but for the majority of students the best they can hope for is any job at all
Sandra Hu, Beijing Foreign Enterprise Human Resources Company

China's successfully expanded higher education in recent years. Too successfully perhaps.

About 6% of the workforce has been to university, far fewer than in many developed countries, but there are still not yet enough high-end jobs for graduates to do here.

Sandra Hu, from the Beijing Foreign Enterprise Human Resources Company Limited, says the market has not expanded nearly quickly enough.

"Some students from the very top universities will of course still be able to get well paid jobs," she says, "but for the majority of students the best they can hope for is any job at all."

By taking on more experienced workers who have perhaps been made redundant from other jobs, firms can save money, Ms Hu points out.

"They prefer people with experience because companies are not willing to spend money training the university students," she says.

High costs

Students are taking jobs that previous years' intakes would not have been willing to accept.

A young woman graduate studies her prospects, Nov 08
Graduates face fierce competition for jobs in the economic slowdown
But that does not always pay the bills, and most importantly the student debts.

Another of this year's graduates, Teresa Yan, a journalism student from Shanghai International Studies University, says the market for public relations and journalism jobs is really bad.

"I'm not from Shanghai," she says, "so life's going to be really tough if all I can find is a job paying $150 a month - the only kind of job that's really on offer."

The government says finding work for graduates like her and finding jobs for the migrant workers who have been forced to return to their villages after factories have closed are its twin priorities.

The reason is obvious. It is worried about social unrest.

Large numbers of highly educated, jobless graduates in huge debt from student loans could cause trouble.

The government wants to avoid that at any cost.

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