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Graduates for Hire

As Wuhan recovers from the effects of the coronavirus, the city is eager to persuade college graduates to stay. But finding a suitable job is harder than ever, despite government efforts to shore up businesses

By NewsChina Updated Sept.1

Even though Wuhan, the city at the early epicenter of the novel coronavirus, was severely hit by the pandemic, city leaders vowed to find jobs for a quarter of a million college graduates.  

Universities in Wuhan started inviting students to return from June 8. Home to 83 higher education institutions, the city has the most college students in the country. At least 317,000 students will graduate from universities in Wuhan this year, an increase of 9.3 percent year-on-year. 

In 2017, Wuhan, capital of Central China’s Hubei Province, released a five-year project that aimed to persuade a million college graduates to stay in the city to work or start their own businesses. But the program is facing an uphill battle as the number of job openings for new graduates is shrinking due to the pandemic. Smaller enterprises are usually the mainstay for graduate employment in the city, but the government is facing a difficult task in keeping these enterprises afloat.  

College graduates attend a recruitment fair in Wuhan, Hubei Province, June 1

Struggling Sectors
Since February, the darkest moment of the pandemic in Wuhan, Liao Sha has been worrying about where students majoring in tourism and hotel management are going to work. She is the deputy director of transportation management department at the Wuhan Technical College of Communications. 

Since the onset of the virus, the tourism sector, including hotels, restaurants and airlines have been moribund. On April 4, China started to lift the lockdown in Wuhan, and Liao began contacting enterprises to ask when they would be resuming operations, and what their staffing needs were in terms of graduates. Liao discovered that many enterprises are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. 

A budget chain hotel in Wuhan is one of the partner enterprises of the college. She was told that each hotel used to employ 30 staff but nowadays only seven or eight employees are needed. Job openings for new college graduates are few and far between. Liao said her biggest fear is that the virus may return and there will be employment pressure from the job-hunting graduates of 2020 and 2021 combined. 

Tourism in Wuhan, like elsewhere in country, suffered a lot. Magnolia Flower Village, a rural resort in Wuhan, reopened on April 10, attracting 2,000 visitors a day, about one-tenth the numbers of the previous year. Jiang Shan, office director of the resort, told NewsChina that the primary target this year is survival. It has 160 employees and a monthly payroll of 700,000 yuan (US$100,000) each. She said they do not plan to recruit college graduates this year.  

Dang Ruihong, director of the employment office of HuazhongUniversity of Science and Technology in Wuhan, told NewsChina that it is a bit easier for engineering graduates to land a job, but humanities graduates are more impacted by the epidemic. Wen Xi, director of the employment office of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, told our reporter that graduates in finance are the worst affected.  

According to statistics from Zhaopin, an online recruitment website, job openings in Wuhan in spring dropped by 73.9 percent year-on-year, and applications dropped by 82.5 percent at the same time. A survey by the Wuhan Talent Service Center showed that the employment rate of graduates from leading universities was virtually the same as previous years, but students from ordinary schools, particularly those majoring in humanities, were finding it difficult to secure a position in the fierce job market. 

In the middle of April, the Wuhan government organized a special meeting on employment, vowing to keep at least 250,000 college graduates working in the city. Sun Zhijun, deputy director of the Wuhan Talent Introduction Bureau, told NewsChina that it is the minimum number, which means that the city will create 250,000 jobs this year. 

On April 16, Wuhan released a directive to address youth unemployment following the coronavirus, in which the government encouraged enterprises to expand recruitment and provided concrete measures to attract college graduates to work at the grassroots level. Each residential community has been directed to recruit one or two college graduates in the upcoming two years. 

Sun Zhijun told our reporter that there will be more jobs available at government agencies and public institutions in Wuhan and more than 1,100 public servants will be recruited this year. In 2019, around 200 public servants were hired in the city. In addition, the healthcare and education sectors will offer more positions. State-owned enterprises in Wuhan are required to provide at least 60 percent of vacancies to new college graduates, offering them 1,500 to 2,000 positions this year. 

The Wuhan government also announced it would provide 14,000 yuan (US$1,995) to each new graduate as a subsidy if they get a job in the city. Wuhan Talent Introduction Bureau told our reporter that the total subsidies amounted to 1.5 billion yuan (US$21m). 

According to Wuhan Talent Introduction Bureau, by the end of June, Wuhan organized more than 100 online job fairs and 1,780 enterprises have provided over 100,000 positions. More than 66,000 positions offered a salary package of over 5,000 yuan (US$713) a month. At least 81,500 online applications were made and nearly 15,150 students have signed a contract. 

Sun Zhijun said it will be difficult to find jobs for 250,000 college graduates in Wuhan, but he is confident of reaching the goal. Over the years, the automobile industry and optoelctric information, coupled with biological medicine and medical equipment, have been the city’s pillar industries and they will continue to provide many vacancies for graduates. 

Data shows that most college graduates in Wuhan major in science and engineering subjects, and these pillar industries will play a crucial role in stabilizing youth employment. Sun told our reporter that as one of the centers of the automobile industry in China, related sectors will generate a large number of vacancies for graduates following the gradual resumption of work and production. 

In the Wuhan Economy and Technology Development Zone, Dongfeng Honda and other automobile manufacturing enterprises have fully resumed operations, which has driven the production capacity of over 500 auto parts suppliers. Chen Xuesong, deputy HR director at Dongfeng Honda, said the company has offered nearly 400 positions to new graduates this spring. 

The Optics Valley of China in Wuhan is the country’s largest optoelectronic information industrial base, home to many leading enterprises in the sector. TCL China Star Optoelectronics Technology has invested 16 billion yuan (US$2.3b) in Wuhan to construct China’s first six-generation LTPS (an advanced LCD screen) display panel assembly line.  

The company’s HR manager Chen Jiena told our reporter that roughly 1,000 graduates will be hired this year, equaling that of the previous year. 

A college graduate looks at job information at a recruitment fair in Wuhan, Hubei Province, June 1

Subsidies and Support
As of the end of 2019, Wuhan had 739,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to government figures, accounting for 60 percent of the total number of enterprises and providing 70 percent of jobs in the city. 

Xiong Jun, director of the Wuhan Talent Service Center, told NewsChina that SMEs have shed around a third of jobs, which means that “fewer job opportunities were provided to college graduates.” 

Wuhan Chengwei Science Company is a small software development and application firm whose customers are mainly government agencies and public institutions. Due to the pandemic, many government departments are facing budget squeezes. Zhao Xiaochang, head of the company, said the firm is basically back to normal, and they plan to hire 10 college graduates this year, but it is not easy to find suitable applicants through online interviews. 

TapTap is an online gaming company in Wuhan which has 10 job vacancies. Its CEO Luo Xiangyu told our reporter that the pandemic has made it difficult to recruit college graduates from outside Wuhan. 

In previous years, training institutions provided a large number of jobs for college graduates but this year most are still closed.  

Xiong Jun said that while State-owned enterprises are stable suppliers of employment for college graduates, they are unable to solve this problem. In his opinion, SMEs, in particular start-ups in video production, online gaming and the services industry have created a lot of job opportunities, but the difficulties they have faced this year mean that young jobseekers are especially hard-hit. 

Most SMEs are operating again, but many are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the cash flow pressure. Wuhan has established a 20 billion yuan (US$2.9b) special fund to support these enterprises, providing one-year, no-interest loans to small enterprises. The fund was recently increased to 40 billion yuan (US$5.5b). The thresholds to access the loans were lowered and enterprises unable to repay the loans can request a delay.  

The city has also provided 1,000 yuan (US$143) subsidies for each job generated by SMEs, and social insurance subsidies were also provided to those enterprises. It is expected that these enterprises could save 9.4 billion yuan (US$1.3b) on social insurance expenditure. 

Luo Zhi, director of the China New Private Economy Research Center at Wuhan University, surveyed the conditions of SMEs in the city in April. She found that it is difficult for these preferential policies to really benefit smaller businesses. There are too many documents and papers for enterprise managers to read, prepare and sign before they are able to obtain the loans.  

“The city should avoid a one-size-fits-all policy, and there should be more details about how it works,” she said. “If you institute a preferential policy, then it needs more support measures.”