China job market getting tough for new graduates

on Aug3
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The unemployment rate for young people ages 16 to 24 in China has soared to record highs above 20% in May and April.

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

BEIJING — Ask young people about the Chinese job market, and the frequent answer is things are more difficult this year.

Most people are ultimately getting jobs, but ones that might not pay the best or match their area of study, according to CNBC interviews with six students and recent graduates. Many requested anonymity since youth unemployment can be a sensitive topic in China, especially for those in the middle of a job search or just starting a career.

The job market can be so tough that one student from a top university told CNBC his classmates are sending out at least 100 resumes, if not more.

“Some classmates have sent out more than 200,” the student said, noting he felt fortunate having applied to 80 positions before getting three job offers. He just graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and is set to start work at Huawei later this summer. Shanghai Jiao Tong University is ranked third in China, and 89th globally, according to U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The unemployment rate for China’s young people ages 16 to 24 climbed to a new record high in June of 21.3%.

The primary reason for high youth unemployment is insufficient demand from businesses, said Zhang Chenggang, director of a research center for new employment forms at the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing.

Businesses aren’t certain about the future right now, making them reluctant to hire young workers — who typically need to be trained, regardless of the education system, Zhang said.

Youth unemployment has remained persistently high over the last three years, while the overall jobless rate for people in cities has officially stayed far lower, near 5%.

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In the U.S., the unemployment rate for people ages 16 to 24 hit a high of 27.4% in April 2020, before falling to near 7% this year, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

One 2023 graduate in China said her class missed out on job opportunities because large internet companies were only looking for current students (not graduates) to begin internships that might turn into jobs. In contrast, she said that when she was still a student, the pandemic was still ongoing and she had not heard of such opportunities.

“I feel like our employment [situation] is much harder,” she said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC.

Slowing growth

Competition everywhere

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Zhang expects the unemployment rate for young people to drop toward the end of the year, after the summer graduation season.

He noted that since many families in China have become more affluent, more young people can also afford to take their time to prepare for higher education exams and find a job with work-life balance.

For some, the situation may even prompt inaction.

“Every year people say it’s hard to find a job. This year, people are more relaxed,” another 2023 graduate said, noting recent world events have demonstrated the futility of planning. That’s according to a CNBC translation of the Mandarin.

Taking more time for tests



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