Graduates innovate to find work amid pandemic
Educated young people are widening the scope of their job searches. Cao Chen reports from Shanghai.
Despite recently entering a tough job market amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhao Heng already has everything an ambitious university graduate could want: an ideal career that he loves.
The journalism graduate from Shanghai International Studies University has been busy preparing his startup, which offers extracurricular tuition in several subjects, including math and English, to middle school students.
Having made his career choice in August last year, the 22-year-old did everything he could to ensure it would happen — such as renting space, registering the business and overseeing the interior design.
He obtained a primary and middle school teacher’s certificate last year, but he has taught more than 60 middle school students part time during the past four years.
“I love imparting knowledge to others in a fun way they can understand,” said Zhao, who designs customized teaching approaches based on each student’s learning style and pace.
As the pandemic has slowed his career progression, Zhao has thought about ways to overcome the obstacles.
“I offered free online courses to students to stay connected with them and thought over my career development calmly during the lockdown,” he said.
Now, decoration of his teaching space is back on track and Zhao is working hard to enroll students.
“I am still confident about my career, because it’s what I love,” he said.
China will see 8.74 million college graduates this year, a rise of 400,000 from last year, but the economic situation has undermined the ability of many businesses to employ them.
In response, many graduates have found employment by expanding their future options with a high level of flexibility, based on interests and experience.
No one can stop you from living the way you want, so just be brave and chase your dream at any time.” Jin Tiantian,
Cao Shujing, director of the careers center at SISU, has observed some new job option trends among this year’s group of graduates.
As internet-related work means there is little risk of cross-contamination, related fields have become popular among graduates.
“More online education institutions have been contacting us to hire a larger number of qualified graduates in multiple languages. More students are opting to work in fields such as the internet, e-commerce and new media,” Cao said.
“Surprisingly, we have a graduate starting her career path at a hospital, which has rarely been seen before. Some hospitals are also looking for students who have mastered languages like Spanish, which will help in communications with medics in other countries,” she added.
Jin Tiantian, who studied journalism as a postgraduate at SISU, is setting forth in the medical field.
She immediately applied for a job when she learned there was an opening in the communications department at a local 3A grade hospital — the highest of China’s threetier grading system for public health — in Shanghai last year.
Jin passed the interview and started work in January. Not long after she started the job, she gained invaluable experience thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am excited to work in a new field where I have things to learn. I don’t want to miss any opportunities,” she said.
In January, on Lunar New Year’s Eve, the hospital dispatched its first batch of doctors to assist in Wuhan, Hubei province.
One of the doctors wrote a daily diary to record front-line life, and Jin was responsible for editing the entries online so people could access them via new media platforms.
The 27-year-old felt honored and was proud of her career choice.
“No one can stop you from living the way you want, so just be brave and chase your dream at any time,” Jin said.
That sentiment is shared by Li Zhen, who has been dedicated to music education since she was admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 2011 to study composition.
She loves music and imparting her knowledge to others.
“I did part-time jobs to stay competitive and agile in the future employment market,” said the 27-year-old, who will soon finish her postgraduate course.
Her endeavors paid off in 2018 when she bought the franchise of a music training class using 150,000 yuan she had earned, along with an additional 100,000 yuan invested by a friend.
Last year, the company — which currently has 15 teachers and 100 students — received funding of 500,000 yuan from the Shanghai Technology Entrepreneurship Foundation for Graduates.
“Before I started the business, I thought about whether I was ready to accept the risk of failure, not just the glory of success. And when everything started, I just kept moving forward and solving problems along the way,” Li said.
The central government has stepped up to secure jobs and stabilize the employment market through a slew of measures to create a favorable environment for graduates looking for work.
For example, to retain existing jobs, all measures to boost employment will be backed by a large injection of funds.
The funds can be used by primary-level authorities to implement tax and fee cuts, and to subsidize rents or interest payments to support companies.
The government is also helping to finance skills-training initiatives by businesses to stabilize employment.
In Shanghai, small and mediumsized enterprises and individual businesses were exempted from three kinds of social insurance — pensions, unemployment and work injury — from February until the end of last month.
In addition, companies or individuals affected by the pandemic are permitted to pay social insurance fees they owe within three months of the conclusion of the pandemic without incurring a penalty.
The city has also taken measures to help graduates find jobs.
According to Ni Minjing, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, more than 10 online job fairs have been held for college graduates since March, offering more than 230,000 posts at 23,000 companies.
The municipality has also stimulated employment in the field of teaching by offering 5,800 positions at kindergartens and primary and secondary schools, as well as 5,000 jobs for talented people in the arts and sports sectors.
Universities are exploring new types of job fairs, too.
Shanghai Jiao Tong University joined hands with companies to build an online recruitment platform, and it has compiled files to offer guidance to students looking for jobs.
Tutors are also finding new ways to help students.
Liu Jian, a tutor at the School of Germanic Studies at SISU, has released short videos about jobhunting strategies for students via his accounts on social networking sites WeChat and Douyin.
“I hope to ease their anxieties,” he said.
Given the efforts at all levels nationwide, there’s a bright spot: Ni suggested graduates should have confidence in employment opportunities in the city and seek work proactively, not just wait or observe.
Ni urged graduates to set realistic job expectations. Statistics from an online job fair system show that the number of positions on offer at several online events exceeded the number of resumes received.
“I also encourage graduates to apply for front-line positions where they can contribute to community governance, instead of simply focusing on management positions,” he said.
Wei Shanchun, deputy director of the student careers center at SJTU, said students majoring in subjects that are essential to the country’s development, such as mathematics and computer science, are in high demand.
However, he expressed concern about next year’s batch of graduates, who will face many uncertainties in the job market.
“The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is limited to the 2020 cohort, who landed work during the jobseeking season last autumn,” he said.
“Students set to graduate next year should ensure they are fully prepared in advance.”
Recent graduates look for employment at a job fair in Shanghai last month.
From left: At a graduation ceremony in Wuhan, Hubei province, last month, seniors pose for a photo with livestreamed classmates who were unable to attend because of the COVID-19 outbreak. A college graduate sells silver jewelry via a livestream in Jiangsu province in April. He started his online business to boost sales.
Li Meilin (left) applies makeup on a girl during a training course.