A college graduate works on an internship application form while jobseekers throng a job fair. Photo: Xinhua

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While China has largely vanquished the once rampaging novel coronavirus, its effects still linger, with the country’s state media admitting that industries are only just starting to feel the impact.

China’s job market, in particular, now serves as a gauge of the well-being of the economy, and a reading of the latest baseline salaries could be a harbinger of troubled times for fresh graduates.

College graduates with a master’s degree – who used to be hailed the crème de la crème of the nation’s youngsters with only one in every 100 students admitted into related programs – are now being offered a meager 3,000 yuan (US$424) per month this spring, if they are lucky enough to land a job.

Those with a bachelor’s degree are reportedly being offered internships without any pay, against an oversupply of graduates and a dearth of job opportunities as Covid-19 hammers the economy.

The Security Times, a publication under the umbrella of the People’s Daily, reported on Wednesday that there would be 8.74 million graduates nationwide hunting for a job in 2020, a new high, and many fear they could join the nation’s swelling jobless ranks now that numerous businesses had folded and many of those surviving were not hiring.

With only one position to offer, a financial consultancy firm in Shenzhen had nearly 1,000 applications from graduates scrabbling to find vacancies, with one avid applicant saying he was willing to forgo any pay or allowances during the usual three-month probation period.

College graduates attend interviews at a job fair, with many others waiting behind them for their turn to be interviewed. Photo: China News Service
Huge crowds are a usual sight at job fairs across China, when there is a constant oversupply of graduates. Photo: Xinhua

Some graduates in Wuhan, ground zero of the pneumonic outbreak, have been turned away as prospective employers in the city are either slashing the numbers on their payrolls or have already chosen to wind up their companies.

Other than the toll on its economy, Wuhan is also feeling the plague’s debilitating effect on its job market. It is a city with more than one million college students enrolled in its 89 tertiary institutions, including the renowned Wuhan University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

A graduate from Wuhan’s Zhongnan University of Economics and Law told a local paper that the virus had decimated his career hopes and that of many others, even before he could start an internship at a local stock trading firm.

“I decided to give up my plan to sit the national postgraduate admission exams for an internship offer as an assistant stock analyst before the Chinese New Year in January, but then came the epidemic and it upended everyone’s plans. The company that promised me the offer before the New Year break has told me they may freeze all hirings,” said the 22-year-old.

Despite lifting the curfew-like lockdown, most office buildings in the largest urban center in central China are still said to be vacant. As a precaution against a resurgence of the virus, Wuhan cadres still mandate businesses avoid summoning all of their staff to return, and instead, they can only assign a small number of people by rotation to return to the office for work that cannot be done remotely.

Many job fairs have gone online amid the pandemic, meaning fewer companies are attending with fewer openings.
President of Wuhan University Dou Xiankang attends an online recruitment event to ‘sell’ graduates from his university. Even those with a degree from prestigious institutions are finding it difficult to land a satisfactory job. Photos: Xinhua
Bleak job prospects have pushed the number registering for this year’s postgraduate program admission exams to a new high, yet sooner or later many of those sitting the exams will still have to look for a job after a few years of study. Photo: WeChat

Almost no companies are recruiting new blood and making a bet against the crippling economic slump. Amid the bleak outlook, micro and small enterprises there have already been forced to make redundancies, even though local government dangles cheap or zero-interest loans to help them save jobs.

Wuhan, a city with a population of more than 11 million, could have literally no economic output throughout February and March when the pathogen brought the buzzing city to a grinding halt. Observers are now waiting to see how much the city’s economy may have shrunk in the first quarter, with official statistics to be released soon.

Wuhan’s GDP – up 9.27 % year-on-year to 1.62 trillion yuan – was ranked 8th nationwide in 2019.

Many dismayed jobseekers, having not heard from any human resources managers after they raced to pounce on a few job openings, are now considering applying for postgraduate programs or going abroad to pursue a higher degree.

Many say they have spent months tossing resumes into the “black hole” of corporate recruiting departments, hoping to hit the lottery, but only to be left frustrated.

China’s education ministry said 3.41 million college graduates had registered for this year’s postgraduate program entrance exams to be held in December, half a million more than last year’s figure, and the school places up for grabs would also be increased to almost a million.

Earlier, education minister Chen Baosheng said the ministry would also add an additional 322,000 new school places for undergraduate programs to meet the demand and would encourage universities to open supernumerary research and administrative posts to help absorb graduates.

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