Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) acknowledged in March that only 78 percent of the previous year’s college graduates had found jobs. But even that figure may overstate employment for the young and educated.
Yin Weimin (尹蔚民), minister of Human Resources and Social Stability, said in a speech last spring that “the major emphasis will be on solving the employment problem among college graduates.”
Wang is the youngest of four children. He was born in late 1987, as the “one child policy” was barely beginning to be enforced in rural areas. His less educated siblings have also been leery of taking well-paid factory jobs.
China has a millenniums-old Confucian tradition in which educated people do not engage in manual labor. But its economy still largely produces blue-collar jobs. Manufacturing, mining and construction represent 47 percent of China’s economic output, twice their share in the United States, and the service sector is far less developed.
The glut of college graduates is eroding wages even for those with more marketable majors, like computer science. But if Wang were willing to take a factory job, his interest in indoor design might take him to Hongyuan Furniture, a manufacturer of home saunas a 45-minute drive south across Guangzhou from his home.
The factory now offers newcomers about US$395 a month, before overtime. Six-person dorm rooms have been replaced with two-person apartments. Yet the factory still struggles to find workers. Plenty of college graduates apply for jobs at the company, but they are not desperate enough to accept blue-collar tasks, said Ni Bingbing, the company’s vice general manager.
One unusual social dynamic created by the one-child policy is that many college graduates are only children with parents and grandparents who continue to nurture them into adulthood.
That is how Wang has managed to get by for most of the last three years without a job. Despite some grumbling, his parents send him money to help support the modest lifestyle he lives out of a small but tidy studio apartment.
As was common in rural China until very recently, his mother never went to school while his father attended elementary school for several years before dropping out. Now in their 60s, his parents had to give up their rice farm when the local government redeveloped the land it was on; Wang’s father does odd jobs as a construction worker to help support his son.
Not surprisingly, Wang’s parents have urged Wang to take one of the many factory jobs available. “You can get paid 4,000 renminbi [US$635] a month for taking such work, but I wouldn’t do it,” Wang said. “Your hands are dirty, you’re all dirty. It’s not for me.”
As hundreds of thousands of factories have opened across the country over the last decade, they have struggled to find workers who can operate their complicated equipment, much less fix it. Yet the number of those receiving vocational training has stagnated to the point that they are now outnumbered roughly two to one by students pursuing more academic courses of study.
“We have jobs and positions for which skilled workers cannot be found, and on the other hand, we have talented people who cannot find jobs; technical and vocational education and training is the answer,” said Lu Xin, the vice minister of education, at a conference in June.