Aug 09, 2020 10:00 AM

Charts of the Day: College Graduates Face Their Toughest Test Yet: Finding a Job

China’s universities and colleges are turning out a record 8.74 million graduates this year — 400,000 more than in 2019 — but they’ll be entering one of the toughest job markets in recent years. A slowdown in economic growth that’s already made life difficult for workers across the country has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.



July and August are peak months for graduate job hunting and with pressure growing to meet the government’s target of creating 90 million new positions for the whole economy this year, ministries and commissions have been working overtime to help. Initiatives have included a “Hundred-Day Sprint” job-search campaign, boosting army recruitment through expanding quotas and offering bonuses to those who sign up, formulating special plans for “grassroots” jobs such as medical positions, promoting entrepreneurship, and bolstering online employment services.

The Ministry of Education has increased enrollment for postgraduate schools by about 23.5% so that 189,000 more graduates can delay entering the job market.

But the environment is grim. The employment subindex of the China manufacturing PMI sponsored by Caixin has been in contraction since December, according to a survey of manufacturers sponsored by Caixin.

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) and small businesses are being called on to hire more college graduates. According to a guideline (link in Chinese) issued in March by the State Council, China’s cabinet, SOEs must expand recruitment of college graduates over the next two years. With job security foremost in many students’ minds in the current uncertain climate, SOEs have become their top choice, surpassing government, public institutions and foreign-invested companies, according to a 2019 report (link in Chinese) by job-hunting platform Zhaopin Ltd.


Nevertheless, the employment market has become increasingly tight as many companies have laid off staff to save costs and conserve cash. The national surveyed unemployment rate jumped to a record 6.2% in February when the economy went into lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and although it’s now down to 5.7%, it’s well above last year’s average rate of 5.15%. Data (link in Chinese) from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that in June, the unemployment rate for people aged 20 to 24 with a junior college degree or above was 19.3%, up from 15.4% in the same period last year.


On top of the normal crop of graduates, students who have been studying abroad are likely to flow into the job market as they can’t return to their overseas universities. Many embassies have cancelled visa appointments and international flights have stopped. Some have chosen to delay their studies and look for internships or jobs, making competition even more fierce.

The government has also rolled out a string of policies and measures to help small and midsize businesses, who together represent the largest segment of employers.

At the end of 2018, micro, small and midsize enterprises (MSMEs) employed (link in Chinese) 233 million people, 79.4% of all workers employed by commercial and industrial businesses, data from the NBS show. Some local governments are encouraging them to hire more college graduates by offering them subsidies. In Shanghai, an MSME can receive a 2,000 yuan ($288) subsidy for each graduate it takes on.

Contact reporter Guo Yingzhe ( and editor Nerys Avery (

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