THE GRADS ARE AL­RIGHT

九五后的时代“慢就业”是王道

The World of Chinese - - Editor's Letter - BY SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

Faced with soul-crush­ing civil ser­vice jobs, iron-rice-bowl bore­dom, and a life­time of drudgery, China's new batch of grad­u­ates are turn­ing to gap years, en­trepreneur­ship, and ca­reers in live stream­ing. The job mar­ket doesn't look like it did years ago, but th­ese grads have a plan.

At a cam­pus fair, stu­dents armed with re­sumes prowl the crowded re­cruit­ing booths, search­ing for any sign of op­por­tu­nity. But Guan Lingzi, 21, a se­nior ma­jor­ing in bank­ing and in­ter­na­tional fi­nance at the Shanghai Univer­sity of Fi­nance and Eco­nom­ics, doesn’t join in the job-hunt­ing fray. In­stead, she is busy with her startup project.

Dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­day af­ter Guan’s sopho­more year, one of her friends ex­claimed, “If only there was in­sur­ance for failed ex­ams!” The joke was a cat­a­lyst. Just a week later, Guan and two friends launched a busi­ness through Wechat that of­fered stu­dents “exam in­sur­ance poli­cies” at the price of 5 RMB. If the pur­chaser fails their next exam, they can get 30 RMB as com­pen­sa­tion; but if they get good grades—like a 4.0-or-above Gpa—they are re­warded with 20 RMB. It puts a whole new spin on gam­bling on your fu­ture.

The project grabbed at­ten­tion when the en­trepreneurs sold 100 poli­cies in two days and, a few months later, Guan and

her busi­ness part­ners were funded by their school’s en­tre­pre­neur pro­gram to the tune of 100,000 RMB.

“I didn’t at­tend any job fairs and don’t have any plans for fur­ther study. I have made up my mind to be­come an en­tre­pre­neur,” Guan told TWOC. “Even if my cur­rent project doesn’t work out and I have to find a job, I will come back to start my own busi­ness sooner or later.”

In China to­day, more and more young grad­u­ates like Guan want to try their hand at start­ing their own busi­nesses, rather than be­com­ing des­per­ate fod­der for the in­creas­ingly im­per­sonal and cut­throat job mar­ket. In pop­u­lar dis­course, they are known as the “slow em­ploy­ment” group. The “slow” refers to stu­dents who don’t opt for the fast-track to a job im­me­di­ately af­ter they grad­u­ate. In­stead, they turn to en­trepreneur­ship or free­lance gigs in emerg­ing in­dus­tries, or just opt to take a gap year.

Opin­ions on th­ese choices are di­vided. A com­men­tary from Xinhua News Agency ar­gued

that us­ing “slow em­ploy­ment” to de­scribe grad­u­ates who have not found work is “self-de­ceiv­ing,” stat­ing that it is mask­ing the prob­lem of grad­u­ates’ dif­fi­culty find­ing a job. “No prob­lems can be solved by creat­ing a new con­cept,” Xinhua jeered. There is good rea­son be­hind Xinhua’s con­cern. Th­ese peo­ple in the “slow-em­ploy­ment” group are not al­ways there by choice. Statis­tics from the Chi­nese Min­istry of Hu­man Re­sources and So­cial Se­cu­rity show that there were more than 7.6 mil­lion col­lege grad­u­ates in China in 2016, and the job­hunt­ing pop­u­la­tion may be as high as 10 mil­lion. But Yu Wenyang, 24, a grad­u­ate in petroleum en­gi­neer­ing from the Chengde Petroleum Col­lege, dis­agrees. Be­fore he of­fi­cially grad­u­ated from col­lege, he was of­fered a job in his own field at a fac­tory. With reg­u­lar work­ing hours and a de­cent salary, it was an en­vi­able prospect. But af­ter a few months’ in­tern­ship, he left the fac­tory and be­came a mem­ber of the slow-em­ploy­ment group. “I don’t want a job in which I can fore­see what ev­ery­thing will be like far into the fu­ture. I still have dozens of years to live,” Yu says. Leav­ing be­hind his “iron rice bowl,” Yu took a few months to fig­ure out a new di­rec­tion, even­tu­ally join­ing a Shanghai-based house­hold chem­i­cal prod­ucts com­pany to be­come a door-to-door sales­man. It’s not a pres­ti­gious job, but Yu loves it be­cause he sees it as a step­ping stone to be­com­ing an en­tre­pre­neur. Ev­ery time he knocks on a door, he in­tro­duces him­self by say­ing, “I am a stu­dent en­tre­pre­neur.” “My own busi­ness is my fi­nal goal. Ac­cord­ing to our com­pany’s sys­tem, if we do well at our po­si­tion, we will be given an op­por­tu­nity to run a branch of­fice in­de­pen­dently in a few years,” Yu says, trudg­ing down the hall of a com­mer­cial build­ing to knock on the next door. “It’ll be just like be­ing the boss.”

“THE GOV­ERN­MENT EN­COUR­AGES GRAD­U­ATES TO START UP THEIR OWN BUSI­NESSES BE­CAUSE THEY WANT TO SOLVE THE UN­EM­PLOY­MENT PROB­LEM. BUT THE STU­DENTS ARE THE ONES TAK­ING ALL THE RISKS”

The de­sire to be­come an en­tre­pre­neur is partly the re­sult of a gov­ern­ment push. “To fos­ter a new en­gine of growth [in China], we need to en­cour­age mass en­trepreneur­ship and in­no­va­tion and mo­bi­lize the wis­dom and power of the peo­ple,” China’s premier Li Ke­qiang said at the 2015 World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos. Since De­cem­ber 2014, the Chi­nese Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has been ask­ing col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to grant stu­dents the op­tion to sus­pend their ed­u­ca­tion to pur­sue en­trepreneur­ship. In a pol­icy doc­u­ment, the MOE asked schools to “make in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship ed­u­ca­tion a con­sis­tent element of the en­tire ed­u­ca­tion process, and de­velop and of­fer cour­ses ded­i­cated to cre­ativ­ity and en­trepreneur­ship.”

So far, more than 20 prov­inces and self-gov­ern­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing Bei­jing and Shanghai, have is­sued en­tre­pre­neur-friendly poli­cies, some of which state that stu­dents who sus­pend their stud­ies to pur­sue en­trepreneur­ship may keep their stu­dent sta­tus for two to eight years.

Guan, how­ever, warns stu­dents to think care­fully be­fore tak­ing the leap. “The gov­ern­ment en­cour­ages grad­u­ates to start up their own busi­nesses be­cause they want to solve the un­em­ploy­ment prob­lem. But the stu­dents are the ones tak­ing all the risks,” says Guan. While Yu is still bask­ing in his en­tre­pre­neur­ial dream, Guan has al­ready learned that en­trepreneur­ship isn’t an easy road. “As univer­sity stu­dents, our hori­zon and knowl­edge about the in­dus­try is limited. We lack busi­ness con­nec­tions, ex­pe­ri­ence, and most im­por­tantly we lack money. In most cases, when the in­vestors know you are a new grad­u­ate, they won’t con­sider in­vest­ing in your busi­ness,” says Guan. “If you choose this path, you need very strong in­ter­nal mo­ti­va­tion.”

Luo Rui, a ju­nior ma­jor­ing in in­vest­ment at the Shanghai Univer­sity of Fi­nance and Eco­nom­ics, who is now run­ning a café on cam­pus, is also wary of the pit­falls of this path. “From what I’ve seen, most en­trepreneurs have seven or eight years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in a cer­tain in­dus­try. Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists can hardly re­ally be in­ter­ested in an in­ex­pe­ri­enced stu­dent’s startup,” says Luo.

Luo’s café opened in Fe­bru­ary 2016, sup­ported by the school. Though its av­er­age monthly sales have reached 13,000 RMB, a pretty good per­for­mance com­pared to others funded by the school’s stu­dent-en­trepreneur­ship pro­gram, Luo says be­ing a busi­ness-owner isn’t in her longterm ca­reer plan, opt­ing to call her­self a “part­time en­tre­pre­neur.”

“I think one of the main dif­fer­ences be­tween an en­tre­pre­neur and an em­ployee is the abil­ity to take risks. It’s still too risky to be­come an en­tre­pre­neur. For me, en­trepreneur­ship is just a good way to gain more knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence about the in­dus­try and so­ci­ety. Even if I do even­tu­ally launch a busi­ness, now is not the time. I will find a job or turn to fur­ther study af­ter grad­u­a­tion. Af­ter all, that’s a path 80 or 90 per­cent of stu­dents have cho­sen,” says Luo.

But even among those who stick to the triedand-true route of em­ploy­ment af­ter grad­u­a­tion, at­ti­tudes and ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions are qui­etly start­ing to change. A sur­vey based on user data col­lected from the QQ web browser, 54 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants from the “post-1995” gen­er­a­tion chose “in­ter­net celebrity” as their ideal job, fol­lowed by voice ac­tors, makeup artists, and cos­play­ers. Server, of­fice clerk, and public ser­vant were the least pop­u­lar jobs. Sta­bil­ity no longer has the draw it once had.

For the par­ents of this gen­er­a­tion, work­ing for the gov­ern­ment or in a state-owned com­pany was the ideal ca­reer choice be­cause it was a de­cent, sta­ble job for life. While it seems that th­ese po­si­tions are wan­ing in pop­u­lar­ity to­day, even fairly low-pay­ing civil ser­vice jobs can some­times see tens of thou­sands of ap­pli­cants.

With more than 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple reg­is­ter­ing for the 2017 na­tional civil ser­vice en­trance exam, it’s hard to say that public ser­vice jobs aren’t in demand, but, at the same time, a to­tal of 223 posts ended up with no ap­pli­cants. The main causes may have been the high re­quire­ments and fierce com­pe­ti­tion of civil ser­vice, but, in the eyes of many young peo­ple, sta­bil­ity isn’t nearly as im­por­tant as pres­tige and cold hard cash.

On­line jobs have be­come an­other key ca­reer av­enue. Wechat stores, live-stream broad­cast­ers, and daigou, who buy prod­ucts over­seas to re­sell on­line, are pop­u­lar ca­reer choices. Li Jian­ing, a 21-year-old, who grad­u­ated last year from a col­lege in Shenyang, Liaon­ing prov­ince, re­cently started a Wechat busi­ness sell­ing teeth­whiten­ing items. She cul­ti­vates a well-de­vel­oped Wechat pres­ence with plenty of ads in the form of

pho­tos and videos. She is also learn­ing to im­prove her makeup skills and plan­ning to be a live streamer.

“My mom wants me to take the civil ser­vice en­trance exam be­cause she thinks it will be a sta­ble, de­cent job. But I feel that it’s bor­ing. In my opin­ion, any job can be de­cent. You work and you make a liv­ing,” says Li. “I want to do some­thing that I am in­ter­ested in and where I have more free­dom.”

“I know that maybe I am not pretty enough to be a live streamer, but hon­estly, I feel I am not smart enough to pass the civil ser­vice exam ei­ther. There is no easy work in the world, right?” Li adds. “But maybe I will take the pro­vin­cial public ser­vice exam be­cause if I fail, my mom will have noth­ing to say.”

Tak­ing a “gap year” is an­other op­tion for “slow em­ploy­ment” grad­u­ates, and was Chi­nese youths’ fifth most pop­u­lar choice ac­cord­ing to the QQ sur­vey. Li Liang grad­u­ated in 2011 and took a gap year to travel around the coun­try. Dur­ing the trip he be­came in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy and, upon his re­turn, opened his own photo stu­dio.

Years later, more and more grad­u­ates are tak­ing Li’s path. At the end of 2014, the China Youth Development Foun­da­tion, a na­tional public foun­da­tion based in Bei­jing, set up The China Gap Year Foun­da­tion to help to pro­mote the idea of the gap year as a le­git­i­mate post-grad­u­a­tion choice. It is the first do­mes­tic or­ga­ni­za­tion to pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port for 18 to 28-yearold stu­dents to pur­sue gap year ac­tiv­i­ties in China or in­ter­na­tion­ally for three months to one year.

“Such ex­pe­ri­ence has in­deed in­flu­enced young peo­ple’s ca­reer de­ci­sions. Some find in­ter­est in new fields and see more pos­si­bil­i­ties in their fu­ture ca­reers. Others feel lost when they come back from their gap year, and find it dif­fi­cult to get their life back on track,” says Gu Zhengzheng, a spokesper­son for the Gap Year Foun­da­tion. “It brings dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, but gen­er­ally it’s pos­i­tive.”

Gu says that in 2015, there were around 100 ap­pli­cants, and in 2016, the num­ber in­creased to more than 200, but it’s still be­low their ex­pec­ta­tions. The gap year is not yet very pop­u­lar in China, and many worry that it causes young peo­ple to miss job op­por­tu­ni­ties, or that it is an ex­cuse for slack­ing. Gu dis­agrees. “The [gap year] con­cept is ahead of the level of [China’s] so­cial development, even a lit­tle bit against tra­di­tion,” she ar­gues. “Many young peo­ple can’t gain ap­proval from their fam­ily and face tremen­dous pres­sure. So far, it’s still just de­vel­op­ing in a small crowd.”

The chal­lenges faced by the new gen­er­a­tion of grads are new, but so too are the op­por­tu­ni­ties. Be they will­ful en­trepreneurs, hope­ful live stream­ers, du­ti­ful would-be civil ser­vants, or wish­ful gap year stu­dents, it’s un­de­ni­able that even as the “slow econ­omy” grads grap­ple with so­ci­etal pres­sures to­day, their val­ues to­ward work-life bal­ance will shape the ex­pe­ri­ence of a fu­ture gen­er­a­tion who will look to them as ca­reer trail­blaz­ers and em­ploy­ers—when they fi­nally get there.

Guan Lingzi's team meet to dis­cuss their newly funded startup

For a pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity

A live streamer broad­cast­ing at an out­door event in Shenyang, Liaon­ing prov­ince

Ex­am­i­nees at Nan­jing Forestry Univer­sity wait to at­tend the 2017 Civil Ser­vice Exam

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