China's job scarcity sees fresh grads shun private sector for stable civil service jobs, as ‘government is too big to fail'

a series of stories, expanding the job market, notorious work culture, occasional media stories

This is the fifth in a series of stories on China’s job market, looking at its history, the role of migrant workers, inequality and the future for its graduates entering the workforce.

A gruelling two-month stretch awaits Adam Xu later this year, and he has a stable government job in his crosshairs.

In addition to the classes he is taking as a master’s student in public administration, the 25-year-old has ambitious intentions to set aside at least 12 hours a day to study for the national civil service examination that will take place in November.

His hope is to return to his hometown – a second-tier city in southern Guangdong province – for a civil service position.

Xu epitomises the shang’an mentality, which literally means “going onto the shore” and describes a growing desire among young people to take jobs in the public sector. The expression is the opposite of a school of thought popularised by his parents’ generation: xiahai, or “going down to the sea”, referring to a movement during China’s period of reform and opening up that began in the late-1970s, when droves of people quit their government positions to become entrepreneurs and explore a “sea” of business opportunities.

“There is not enough water in the sea now, so who will still xiahai?” Xu posited. “Our generation doesn’t even have a swimming pool.”

Amid skyrocketing living costs, increasingly unbearable working pressure in the private sector, lingering uncertainties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, and fast-changing internal and international environments, more and more Chinese graduates are vying for government jobs – known as “iron rice bowls”, because they offer guaranteed job security, steadier income and benefits, and a more predictable future.

That’s exactly what Xu is looking for when he graduates next year. But he knows it won’t be an easy undertaking; the competition is fierce.

A total of 1.576 million applicants sat last year’s national civil service examination, vying for 25,726 positions – meaning just one out of every 61 test-takers ended up reaching the “shore”. The most sought-after position was with the Guangdong branch of the National Statistics Bureau, with 3,334 applicants striving for one spot.

Fresh college graduates are a significant driver of China’s civil service fever. In a survey conducted by job-hunting website Zhaopin in April, 11.4 per cent of new graduates said they hoped to get a job in the government, double the proportion of last year. At the same time, the percentage of graduates seeking jobs at state-owned enterprises – the top choice among those polled – also increased from 36 per cent last year to 42.5 per cent.

“The mentality of pursuing stability is stronger among graduates in the post-pandemic era,” said Wang Yixin, executive director of public relations at Zhaopin.

That mindset is also prevalent among graduates from elite domestic universities, as well as those with overseas degrees. In the past, these graduates tended to pursue higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

A survey conducted last year by research and consulting firm Ipsos showed that almost half of China’s overseas graduates who secured jobs ended up in the public sector, which comprises civil service, state-owned enterprises and all other publicly funded institutions.

Last summer, a recruitment list from a subdistrict government in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, went viral. Eight graduates ended up securing entry-level positions in one of the smaller administrative jurisdictions in China’s government hierarchy, and each of them had a master’s degree from one of China’s top two universities, Peking or Tsinghua.

The frenzy appears to have intensified this year as the country is struggling to find jobs for all those who want them, and this has been exacerbated by the lingering impact of the pandemic. The situation keeps getting worse for fresh graduates, as more than 9 million students graduated this year – a record high.

The urban unemployment rate for people aged 16 to 24 was 15.4 per cent in June – more than triple the 5 per cent rate for the entire urban working population, and the highest percentage since September, based on figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

That group primarily comprises fresh graduates of high schools, vocational schools and universities, according to Guo Lei, principle economist at GF Securities. “The historical average of this figure is 12.5 per cent,” he said in a note earlier this month.

The “structural gap” caused by the increasing supply of graduates and diminishing employment opportunities amid the pandemic is the main reason behind the rising rate, Guo said.

Zhaopin’s Wang also pointed to the mounting pressure these graduates face in their job search.

“They are not just competing with their peers from this year, they are also competing with last year’s graduates who haven’t landed on a job yet, as well as those who have lost their job during the pandemic and need to re-enter the employment market,” she said.

China has made stabilising employment and expanding the job market top policy issues since the pandemic began. And providing support for university graduates was identified as a priority for this year.

But the private sector, which generally absorbs most graduates during normal times, has been hit hard by the pandemic. In particular, small and medium-sized enterprises, which account for more than 90 per cent of employment according to official figures, continue to struggle due to rounds of lockdowns and high raw material prices.

“Within a short period, like one or two years, the mentality of [jobseekers] prioritising stability won’t change much,” Wang said. “It is mainly due to the general atmosphere of [economic] uncertainty.”

This helps illustrate where Xu’s head is at ahead of the civil service examination. After the test syllabus comes out in October, he is even planning on signing up for an exam-preparation course, and he has already singled out a Shenzhen-listed institution that advertised heavily on huge billboards near his undergraduate campus.

Just a couple of years ago, Xu recalled, the dream jobs for fresh graduates were almost exclusively in the private sector. Tech giants and leading property developers were the top choices.

“Who would still feel proud if they get into Evergrande or Wanda now? Everyone wants to shang’an now,” he said. “Times have changed so quickly.”

The private sector’s relatively high salaries are undeniably attractive. But the notorious work culture that tech giants have become infamous for – often referred to as “996”, meaning one must work 9am-9pm, six days a week – has made those positions less appealing in the eyes of many young people. It doesn’t help when they see occasional media stories about tech employees having heart attacks or committing suicide.

After applying for positions at almost all of the companies that own the most popular apps in China, Jack Yuan concluded his job-hunting season with four offers. A major e-commerce platform offered him a position as a programmer, with a pre-tax monthly salary roughly four times as high as the average for fresh graduates with at least a master’s degree. That average was 7,337 yuan (US$1,135) as of 2020, according to data from Zhaopin.

But he will work at least 12 hours a day, six days a week, with considerable overtime during peak shopping seasons. After doing the maths, he said the pay seems much less appealing, particularly given the impact these long hours will have on his private and social life.

“This working model with long hours is unsustainable,” Yuan said. “How can you date working 12 hours a day and six days a week? If you are lucky enough to have a wife and kids, your family will fall apart if you work like that.”

With a bachelor’s degree from an elite Chinese university and a master’s degree in engineering from an overseas university, Yuan has the luxury of choice. But the vast majority of fresh graduates do not. With more big tech firms going public and becoming established in their domain, and with smaller players becoming increasingly squeezed out, the number of jobs in the sector has declined since 2018 while the recruitment criteria have tightened, according to Zhaopin.

“If you are not a graduate from an elite university, it would be hard for you to get past the résumé stage of recruitment,” Yuan said.

After all, the government is too big to fail

Adam Xu, master’s student in public administration

In that regard, Xu also noted that another upside of the civil service examination is that there are no diploma requirements for sitting the exam itself, so it may be easier to at least get one’s foot in the door, compared with a job at a big tech firm.

Meanwhile, one also has to factor in the government’s recent regulatory crackdowns on big tech firms, as this adds further uncertainties to the sector.

“And with a major in public administration, I don’t think my skills and knowledge are what the big tech would really value,” Xu said

Even though the salaries for civil servants are not as high, for Xu, the much better social welfare benefits those positions can provide – including housing, health care, education for children, and retirement benefits – offset the drawbacks.

“After all,” Xu concluded, “the government is too big to fail.”

News Related


S&P revises Russian GDP growth forecast to 4% in 2021

The unemployment rate in Russia is expected to be 4.9% this year Read more »

Railway traffic in Guinea restored, operations are normal — Rusal

It was reported that on September 20, two trains carrying Rusal’s bauxites had collided Read more »

Facebook requests Moscow court postpone fine payment

Earlier, the Justice of the Peace Court of the Tagansky District slapped the company with fines amounting to 26 mln rubles over the tech giant’s refusal to remove prohibited content Read more »

Unvaccinated United Airlines' staff faces firings as early as today as deadline for Covid shots passes

United Airlines pilot Steve Lindland receives a COVID-19 vaccine from RN Sandra Manella at United's onsite clinic at O'Hare International Airport on March 09, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.Scott Olson | ... Read more »

Nagaland govt announces Unlock-7 from Oct 1 to 30

Representative image The Nagaland government Tuesday decided to extend its latest phase of unlocking till October 31 with more relaxations, officials said. The state government has been announcing the unlocking ... Read more »

Viacom18 bags broadcast and digital rights for football league Italian Serie A

Voot Announces 17 New Originals, International Expansion … NDTV Gadgets Voot Announces 17 New Originals, International Expansion Viacom18 announced that it has acquired the broadcast and digital rights for football ... Read more »

OPEC forecasts oil demand rebound before post-2035 plateau

Representational image. Source: Reuters Demand for oil will grow sharply in the next few years as the global economy recovers from the pandemic, OPEC said on September 28, adding that ... Read more »

Aditya Birla Sun Life AMC mobilises Rs 789 crore from anchor investors ahead of IPO

Representative image Aditya Birla Sun Life AMC, one of the four largest AMCs in India by quarterly average assets under management, has mopped up Rs 788.95 crore from 50 anchor ... Read more »

S&P Dow Jones brings bitcoin, ethereum to Wall St with cryptocurrency indexes

Cryptocurrency (Representative image: Reuters) The S&P Dow Jones Indices launched new cryptocurrency indexes, it said on Tuesday, further mainstreaming digital currencies including bitcoin and ethereum by bringing them to the ... Read more »

Dow sheds 500 points as weakness in Big Tech leads stocks lower

Stocks fell broadly on Wall Street Tuesday as bond yields continued marching higher and put more pressure on big technology companies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 500 points, or ... Read more »

Star Housing Finance's loan book hits Rs 100 crore so far this fiscal

Representative Image Affordable housing-focussed Star Housing Finance Ltd (Star HFL) on Tuesday said its loan book has reached Rs 100 crore during the current fiscal year so far. Star Housing ... Read more »

PVR to reopen multiplex PVR Saket with release of James Bond venture 'No Time To Die'

Multiplex operator PVR announced the reopening of its flagship multiplex property PVR Saket on September 30 with the release of the much-awaited James Bond venture— No Tim To Die. Considered ... Read more »

SEBI allows open offer and delisting together at differential pricing to make M&As easier

The SEBI board made it easy for acquirers to delist target companies after acquisition. The board of the market regulator, the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI), has eased ... Read more »

China power crisis: thermal coal inventory nears record low as country suffers worst outages in a decade

In past years, when the calendar turned to September, China’s power-generation groups set out to replenish their coal inventories ahead of the cold winter months. This year, coal is so ... Read more »

States debt to hit Rs 71.4 lakh crore in FY22: Report

Representative image (Source: ShutterStock) States’ indebtedness will remain high this fiscal at 33 per cent, which is only a notch below the record high of 34 per cent of their ... Read more »

Kayak Investments to sell 6.57% stake in Max Healthcare, base deal size Rs 2,220 crore

Max Healthcare Institute Kayak Investments Holdings Private Ltd, one of the promoting entities of Max Healthcare Institute Ltd, will sell its 6.57 percent stake in the company, CNBC TV 18 ... Read more »

VRO Hospitality raises $3 million in Series-A funding round

Representative image. Bengaluru-based hospitality chain VRO Hospitality on Tuesday said it has raised $3 million (about Rs 22.5 crore) in Series-A funding. The funding was a mix of equity and ... Read more »

Suryoday Small Finance Bank to discontinue ATM services from October 1

As of June 30, Suryoday SFB had a total of 555 banking outlets of which liability-focused outlets were 97 and the total employee count stood at 5,072 as of June ... Read more »

Jaypee Infratech case: NCLT to hear plea on approval of Suraksha's bid on October 26

The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) on September 28 decided to hear the pleas for the approval of the Suraksha Group’s bid to acquire embattled real estate firm Jaypee Infratech ... Read more »

Sen. Warren calls Fed Chair Powell a 'dangerous man,' says she will oppose his renomination

“Your record gives me grave concerns. Over and over, you have acted to make our banking system less safe,” Warren said. Read more »

Rescue drone taking off from water developed in Russia

A drone is fully equipped with a sealed screw-motor group to work in the Arctic as well as in countries of Africa and the Middle East Read more »

Tech firms should not use encryption as excuse to hold up assistance to law enforcement: MeitY Secy

How to encrypt your hard drive and keep your folders and files safe Softonic Technology companies should not hold up assistance to law enforcement agencies by using encryption as an excuse, ... Read more »

SEBI board clears gold exchange framework, revises norms for RPTs, superior voting rights, delisting and M&A — Key takeaways

The SEBI board made it easy for acquirers to delist target companies after acquisition. The board of the markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) took a number ... Read more »

Govt extends foreign trade policy till March next year

Representative image The government on Tuesday again extended the existing foreign trade policy (FTP) for another six months till March 31 next year, according to a notification. Earlier, it had ... Read more »

Job creation and hiring in trade, hospitality to improve from 2022: Experts

Representative image of hotel lobby. Economists and sector experts are of the opinion that hiring and employment in trade and hospitality sectors are expected to improve from the third quarter. All but ... Read more »

Gas prices in Europe plunge to $970 per 1,000 cubic meters

Earlier, October futures at the TTF hub in the Netherlands climbed to record-breaking $1,040 per 1,000 cubic meters Read more »

IMF: economy has emerged from crisis well, more effort required for schools, housing, climate

Compared to other euro countries, the Dutch economy has come through the corona pandemic well. This morning the Central Planning Bureau (CPB) already concluded that the Netherlands has come through ... Read more »

Minister Grapperhaus misinformed Parliament about fraud at Pels Rijcken

Outgoing minister Ferd Grapperhaus (Justice and Security, CDA) has misinformed the House of Representatives about his knowledge of the extensive fraud at state lawyer Pels Rijcken. Contrary to what he ... Read more »

Requests for gas supplies to Europe met in full, Gazprom says

Earlier on Tuesday, the gas price was for the first time above $1,000 per thousand cubic meters at the opening of the trading session in Europe Read more »

Ericsson's China chief remains hopeful on prospects in the country despite rising geopolitical tensions over 5G

Ericsson’s China chief said the Swedish telecoms equipment giant’s operations in the country have been affected by geopolitical tensions after Sweden banned equipment made by Huawei Technologies Co from its ... Read more »

Action will be taken if there are violations, says SEBI chief Ajay Tyagi; declines to comment on Zee matter

SEBI Chairman Ajay Tyagi SEBI Chairman Ajay Tyagi on Tuesday said that whatever actions are required will be taken if there are violations but declined to offer any specific comment to ... Read more »

Nasdaq tumbles 2%, S&P 500 drops 1% ahead of Jerome Powell, Janet Yellen hearing

Source: Reuters Wall Street stocks fell early Tuesday with tech shares hit hard as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged Congress to quickly raise the debt ceiling to keep the US ... Read more »

Waaree Energies files draft papers for IPO with fresh issue worth Rs 1,350 crore

Solar energy player Waaree Energies has filed draft papers for its initial public offering that comprises a fresh issue of Rs 1,350 crore and an offer for sale. The offer for ... Read more »

SEBI's investor charter to go live, to lay down investors' rights

The investor charter that was proposed in Union Budget 2021-2022 with the aim of protecting investors from the misselling of financial products, was cleared for launch by the SEBI in ... Read more »

Hungary cleared Gazprom contract details with European Commission, says Russian envoy

On Monday, Hungary signed a new, long-term contract with Gazprom to supply gas bypassing Ukraine Read more »

Tech companies sharply lower on Wall Street

Stock markets in New York started trading with losses on Tuesday. Tech companies, in particular, went on sale. Interest rates are rising, making these equities, which are valued primarily on ... Read more »

Future Group gets NCLT nod to hold meetings for sale of assets to Reliance

(File image: Future Group Chairman Kishore Biyani) The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) on September 28 granted the Future Group permission to meet with its shareholders and creditors for the ... Read more »

Exclusive | ABSL AMC IPO: Anchor investors buy shares worth Rs 800 crore at upper price band

Ahead of its initial public offering (IPO), Aditya Birla Sun Life Asset Management Company (ABSL) AMC’s anchor book got fully subscribed at the upper band of the IPO price band ... Read more »

Facebook earmarks $50 million investment to build metaverse responsibly

Representative Image Facebook has announced $50 million (about Rs 370.6 crore) investment in global research and programme partners to ensure that “metaverse” is “developed responsibly”. Metaverse – according to the ... Read more »

U.S. plans infrastructure projects in Latin America to counter China initiatives

A delegation of U.S. officials is on a tour of Latin America to scout development projects to potentially counter China's Belt and Road Initiative. Read more »