China’s anxious jobseekers face reality as career aspirations vanish, youth unemployment pressure remains

 Despite Beijing’s repeated push, young jobseekers in China are being forced to shed career aspirations and yield to lower-paid positions amid shrinking opportunities, mirroring the overall mounting employment woes.

Stella Zhang, who graduated from one of China’s most prestigious universities in Beijing last year, said her long-held belief that “good education leads to a bright future” had been shattered by the reality of the job market.

“Now I’ve shed all idealistic expectations for work, such as being a platform for self-fulfillment. A job is simply a way for me to lead a stable life,” said the 24-year-old, who was unemployed for over six months after graduating.

Zhang is among the countless young Chinese jobseekers grappling with disillusionment within the grim employment market, where the adjusted youth unemployment rate for the 16-24 age group excluding students reached 15.3 percent in February, up from 14.6 percent in January.

While the government has been rolling out rounds of supportive measures to bolster the employment that is deemed key to maintaining social stability and boosting consumption confidence, China is still faced with growing unemployment pressure amid a set of economic headwinds.

The ongoing downturn in the property market, slumping investment, and the chronic payment arrears plaguing the private firms that have driven the biggest creator of jobs to downsize their workforce are all weighing on the world’s second-largest economy.

“There are weaknesses in ensuring people’s livelihoods, with great pressure to stabilize employment,” the National Development and Reform Commission said in this year’s work plan released during the “two sessions” parliamentary meetings earlier this month.

“While some people are struggling to find jobs, some positions are also facing increased difficulty in recruitment.”

Why should we bear the burden from the macro environment?
Stella Zhang

The top economic planner also highlighted a notable growth in the workforce and some structural adjustments, such as rural labor migration, were leading to an even larger demand for job creation.

This pushed the government to raise its target to create more than 12 million new jobs in urban areas this year, having said it created 12.44 million last year.

But a record 11.79 million university students are set to graduate this year, which is expected to compound the employment woes.

“Employers are looking for fresh graduates with both good academic background and sufficient work experience,” said Zhang, who admitted she regretted focusing too much on academics instead of making time for internships.

“But why should those who have just started university be pressured to have a clear career path already? Why should we bear the burden from the macro environment?”

Between idealism and reality, the priority for us is to survive
Ding Lin, jobseeker

As fresh graduates like Zhang are undergoing the pains of rejection due to lack of experience, seasoned jobseekers have also found the worsening job market is failing to meet their expectations.

“My bachelor’s degree no longer cuts [it in the job market]. Most large platforms now require candidates with a master’s degree from a reputable university,” said 29-year-old jobseeker Ding Lin from Hunan province, who lost her previous job in the real estate sector nine months ago during a large-scale round of lay-offs.

Ding said she had only received five responses from over 500 job applications, among which two rejected her at the final stage because of her age.

“The job offer I’ve got at the moment even pays less than my first job, but I still want to find a job as soon as possible,” she said.

“My gap without work is so long that it’s causing huge anxiety for me. Many people of my age are facing mortgage pressure, so between idealism and reality, the priority for us is to survive.”

The jobless rate for the 25-29 age group stood at 6.4 percent in February, up slightly from 6.2 percent in January.

China’s young abandon consumerism in favour of fulfilling experiences

Vice-minister Liao Min said last week that the Ministry of Finance would lead government-backed financing institutions to favor labor-intensive enterprises to address the employment challenges.

“We anticipate leveraging an additional 1.3 trillion yuan (US$180 billion) in loans by 2024, stabilizing over 12 million positions and driving the creation of over 600,000 new jobs,” Liao said.

He added the government would provide entrepreneurship subsidies to university graduates or those with employment difficulties who first start small businesses to unleash entrepreneurship-driven employment.

But while the government is trying to ease the pressure on employment, young jobseekers are also struggling to find their way out.

Maxie Wu, a 28-year-old programmer in Shenzhen, resigned from his job last month due to its grueling work schedule, only to find fewer job opportunities available and a pay cut of around 30 percent

This kind of disappointment with the job market is a blow to people at any stage
Maxie Wu, an unemployed programmer

“If I had known the market would be this tough, I would have preferred to [stay with my previous job] and work until 11pm,” he lamented.

“I’m really anxious, mostly about whether I should continue to be a programmer. Even if I survive and find a job this time, in two or three years, I would still need to face the crisis of being replaced by the younger programmers who cost less and have more energy.”

Wu considered if he should pursue a less competitive career, such as being an electrician, even though the job receives less social recognition.

“My situation is better than many graduates, as I at least have experience. Many graduates told me they have been unemployed for six months or even a year, and some even said not finding a job within three months is already normal,” he said.

“This kind of disappointment with the job market is a blow to people at any stage.”

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