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Millions of Chinese queue up at job fairs

One overcast morning this week, seven months after Beijing hosted the costliest Olympics in history, this reporter stands in line with unemployed Chinese graduates to buy a 10-yuan (Rs 70) entry ticket to a job fair.

world Updated: Mar 06, 2009 02:26 IST

One overcast morning this week, seven months after Beijing hosted the costliest Olympics in history, this reporter stands in line with unemployed Chinese graduates to buy a 10-yuan (Rs 70) entry ticket to a job fair.

A computer science and technology student graduating in June armed with 40 new copies of his resume accompanies the reporter past the guards and baggage checks. “This is my third job fair since late February,” says Wang Hao.

Around 6.1 million graduates of China’s class of 2009 are swarming job fairs this year. And an estimated one million graduates of the class of 2008 are still unemployed with jobs across China disappearing as the global economy slows and demand falls for Chinese exports.

As the twentieth anniversary of the June 1989 military crackdown on student protestors at Tiananmen Square approaches, Beijing is nervous about maintaining stability - especially among unemployed students and migrants.

On Thursday, Premier Wen Jiabao announced a target of nine million jobs in cities this year, officially China’s ‘toughest year’ since 2000.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of China has urged graduates to lower expectations and accept clerical government jobs created in villages or enlist in the army, instead of being unemployed in the boomtowns.

After years of 10%-plus growth, the Chinese economy slowed to an almost insignificant 2% growth in the last quarter of 2008.

Fitch Ratings has warned that the country’s growth could slow to 5.6% this year from 9% last year. But Wen has promised to spend more, if required, to ensure that the country’s economy expands by 8% this year.

India, too, has been hit by the global economic crisis, and a recent study by the country’s labour ministry said almost half a million jobs have been lost - mostly in companies targetting export markets. Graduates from India’s engineering and business schools are scrambling to find jobs, and some IT firms have, in the wake of a sudden slowing in business, told
hires from the graduating batch of 2008 that they will have to wait to join the company.

Still, China’s problems, and the sharpness of the slowdown in the country’s economy, dwarf India’s. That slowdown in growth is reflected in the job fair where, in a hall with 350 stalls, management and finance graduates compete for jobs with graduates who studied for secretarial posts.

One job-hunter says it is not unusual for the organisers of such fairs to bundle and trash resumes after the event.

“We used to think we were China’s luckiest generation to graduate after the Olympics, which would bring international opportunities,” says an English major and Olympics volunteer. “Today, most of us give up on job fairs after two-three visits.” She wants to be an assistant to a senior executive. And it is a tall order. “The last interviewers didn’t call back because I am short,” she says. “Appearance is very important for a job.”

Still, Beijing’s graduates smile knowingly at mention of rumours of cosmetic surgeries, but don’t complain about discrimination. Last year, assistants at presentation ceremonies for the Olympic medals were picked for perfect six-teeth smiles and general appearance. At a hospital in the eastern agrarian province of Anhui, cosmetic surgeon Zhao Yu said he performs four to five cosmetic surgeries everyday on male and female graduates.

“After the Spring Festival (in January), our centre has seen a remarkable rise in the number of college students who come to have cosmetic surgeries,’’ Zhao was quoted as saying by Xinhua in a March 1 report. Xinhua also quoted a 22-year-old English major in Hefei who failed interviews and paid 10,000 yuan (Rs 70,000) to make her face thinner and eyes bigger. “I felt my face (was) broad and eyes small; the appearance made me lack confidence and perhaps affected judgement of interviewers.”

Inside the fair, Wang’s hopes fade as most jobs are for sales staff and assistants. China wants to create millions of IT jobs to compete with India, but most graduates of 2009 are faced with jobs unrelated to their specialisation.