A convocation event under way at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei in Anhui province. A record number of fresh graduates are passing out this year - 200,000 more than last year. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
BEIJING - Mr Pan Tong, one of a record 6.8 million university students to graduate this year, knows he is lucky to have found a job amid a slowing economy and stiffer competition for more desirable urban positions.
Of the 50 students in his accounting course at Changchun Normal Academy, the 22-year-old is among only 10 to be employed.
That has not stopped him from plotting his exit - barely three months after he started work handling finances at a small firm in his hometown in Changchun city, capital of northern Jilin province.
'I'm going to jump ship sooner or later as I'm not satisfied with my job - my monthly salary is about 2,000 yuan (S$400),' he said, adding that he wants to go to bigger cities. 'Pay in Jilin is too low.'
Mr Pan is hardly the only college diploma holder who continues to be picky about jobs even as employment prospects for young Chinese look set to get tougher.
Last year, roughly 10 per cent of fresh graduates were still unemployed after six months, a research report by education data provider Mycos Institute said. This compared with the 9.5 per cent rate in the United States.
There were 6.6 million such degree holders last year, part of the 25 million Chinese in urban areas looking for work.
However, only about 12 million new jobs are created in urban areas every year, according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.
This year, the proportion of unemployed may rise. Analysts worry it could edge closer to the 13.4 per cent level in 2009, when 6.1 million students graduated in the first half of the year amid the global financial crisis.
This time, there is not only a record number of fresh graduates - 200,000 more compared to last year and 700,000 more than in 2009 - but also a weakened appetite for business expansion and hiring that could challenge Beijing's efforts to create nine million plus new urban jobs this year.
'These two factors are likely to magnify the problems in China's job market,' said Professor Yin Fei of Nanjing Normal University.
'There are already gaps in the labour market... which may get worse,' he said, referring to the difficulty companies face in hiring the right people from the masses of young graduates.
Many of them have academic smarts and high expectations for pay and work benefits, but lack the right skills to 'start work right away' without extensive training, Prof Yin added.
China is short of about 6.4 million workers with vocational skills in areas like construction, services or teaching. The surge in enrolments at universities rather than technical institutes in recent years is partly blamed for this gap.
This means that the annual batches of university graduates will rise 3 per cent to more than seven million by 2015. And these degree holders are looking to cover their college fees with more cushy or higher-paying jobs.
Among the 90 per cent of graduates last year who found positions, more than half were dissatisfied with their jobs and were seeking to move, Mycos found.
Not surprisingly, the most highly sought-after jobs are at state-owned enterprises, which are said to offer good pay and generous perks, right down to handouts of vegetables, meat or petrol vouchers at some firms.
Some 60 per cent of the 6,059 graduates surveyed said they wanted to work for government-linked organisations, a Tsinghua University study showed in 2010.
But such attractive positions require connections.
For example, Ms Sun Aili, 22, who could not rely on her family to pull strings, had to work hard to get interviews, sending out 30 resumes at the end of last year.
'I finally found a translation job at a cultural development centre in May,' said the graduate of the well-known Beijing Foreign Language University.
Most of her classmates with the financial means have opted to further their studies rather than look for work this year.
'One-third of my class will do a master's degree in China and one-third are going abroad,' she said.
As for broadcasting graduate Shi Rui, 22, she hopes that her unpaid internship at a TV station at Fujian Normal University will yield a job eventually. But she is already preparing for the worst.
'If I can't get a job, I may try to find a position at an outsourcing or media company that can make use of my degree. Otherwise, I would have spent four years studying for nothing.'