Monday, February 26, 2024
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She has a master’s but no job and lives on discount coupons. In China, there are many like her

NANJING: In 2015, when Lingshan was deciding what to study in university, China’s property market was booming and civil engineering seemed a lucrative choice.

Fast forward seven years and Lingshan, who graduated with a master’s degree last year, is in an awkward situation. She has been unemployed for a year and is living in an apartment merely 8 square metres in size in the eastern city of Nanjing.

“Why did I study civil engineering? Oh my, that was stupid,” said Lingshan, who asked to be identified by her online alias.

“I’d wanted to work for a real estate developer, but by the time I graduated, they were going bust one after another,” she recalled.

“I was hit in the face by the downturn.”

China’s property crisis unfolded when developer Evergrande, which had over US$300 billion (S$410 billion) in liabilities, defaulted in 2021. Since then, companies accounting for 40 per cent of Chinese home sales have defaulted, reported Reuters, and the crisis has now engulfed another major developer, Country Garden.

According to Chinese media reports, the country’s top 50 property developers cut 200,000 jobs last year. With many homes unfinished and property prices continuing to decline, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Employers are increasingly demanding at least a master’s degree for office jobs, even when the position hardly justifies it.

“To an employer, hiring is costly,” said Xu. An employer may have this perspective: “I don’t have a lot of time to spend on hiring, I’m busy. So I’ll only pick among the master’s (degree holders),” Xu explained.

“Of course, I know some bachelor’s (degree holders) are also outstanding, but employers have no time to discover (them).”

Xiami, who asked to be known by an alias, is the son of farmers in Shandong who moved to Shanghai for his studies — one of the few in his village to do so.

He started his job search in February and sent “at least 200” resumes to potential employers.

“I was initially optimistic,” said Xiami, who studied Chinese literature. “I thought I could find a job in three months. But six months later, I still couldn’t land anything.

“I remember thinking — it’s time to wake up, there’s no future for me.”

Xiami eventually landed a job as a management trainee with a parcel delivery company. He earns less than 10,000 yuan (S$1,860) a month and, as a start, will work as a rider.

“I’ve taken it in stride,” he said simply. “At least I have a way forward.”

‘CAN’T EVEN SUPPORT YOURSELF’

China’s youth unemployment situation highlights mismatches in skills and between the expectations of youths and employers.

Qiang, who is from China’s southwest, recently graduated in eldercare — a relevant skill in a rapidly ageing country. But he is no longer keen on putting his degree to use. “It pays too little, and the hours are long,” he said.

“You need to be on standby 24 hours a day and do night shifts. When on probation, the salary is only 1,500 to 2,000 yuan,” he said. “Even when you’re confirmed, you get paid 3,000 yuan at most.”

Bantering with friends over a meal, one of them quipped: “Become a care worker? Who’s going to marry you? You want to be single forever? With the salary of a care worker, you can’t even afford to have a cat.”

Another friend piped up: “Can’t even support yourself, forget about the cat.”

Qiang’s parents, who own two restaurants, had hoped to help him open his own care centre after he graduated. But after three years of COVID-19 lockdowns, they no longer have the financial ability to do so.

With China’s Ministry of Education forecasting a shortage of nearly 30 million manufacturing workers by 2025, Cunjun may well find his way back to a factory in future.

For now, he has a job at a construction site in Yinchuan, Ningxia’s capital, and was paid 300 yuan on his first day.

The search continues for his brother Youhu, as it does for Lingshan.

She has turned to livestreaming to pay the bills, putting her life on display for tips. A recent session bagged her over 20 yuan. “Thank you for feeding me,” she told her audience. “I want to buy a bowl of instant noodles. I can even afford to add some meat.”

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