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Youth Also Suffer

It is the third time Alex Xiang has been out of work in Shanghai since graduating from a local job training school two years ago.

Without a college education, Xiang found it especially difficult to find a good job in a city abounding with well-educated people. Refusing to take a job with a monthly salary of less than 1,000 yuan ($120) also caused him to miss a lot of chances.

"I sometimes even hope that society could go back to the planned economy, where jobs are assigned to everyone without so much competition," Xiang said.

Jobless young people like Xiang are not rare in the city. Recent statistics indicate that of all the unemployed people registered in Shanghai, half are between the ages of 20 and 30, a figure exceeding 105,000.

It seems that the locals have adapted to the term of 4050 project (meaning a project helping laid off women over 40 and men over 50 to find new jobs), which appeared until recent years after the country adopted a market economy, a new term is now emerging - 2030 project (helping those in their 20s and 30s to find jobs).

In the eyes of Chen Lilian, director of Huangpu District Employment Agency, the high youth unemployment rate is not because the city lacks jobs for them, but because youth still cling to old modes of thought in choosing a job.

"Nowadays, most of the young people of Shanghai hold at least a diploma from polytechnic school or high school, which in the past would have ensured them jobs like teachers and office clerks," Li said."But now, with the rapid increase in the number of university graduates, many of them have to take jobs as blue-collar workers."

"In Huangpu District there are many vacancies for shop assistants and restaurant attendants, but few young people will look at these."

Educated yet unemployed

It is not just poorly educated youth who are facing employment difficulties. An even more startling fact is that among the young jobless group, a large percentage have a university background.

Statistics indicate that last year alone, the number of unemployed youth educated to university level or above reached 35,000.

"For many students, leaving campus means nothing but unemployment," said Yan Youmin, vice-director of Shanghai Municipal Labour and Social Security Bureau.

The number of university graduates has increased rapidly following the popularization of university education, but the number of new jobs has not kept pace.

Like relatively poorly educated people who have prejudices against jobs like shop assistants, many university graduates have high expectations about their future work.

"When the income rate and working conditions fail to meet their expectations, many choose to give up," Yan said.

The dependent nature of some young people cultivated in the single-child families also adds to the difficulty to do the job well and develop good relationships with colleagues.

"It is frequently seen in our employment agency that elderly parents accompany their young sons or daughters coming to ask for job information," said Chen Lilian.

Jobless youth also tend to compare their situation with others.

"What a shame when all my former classmates are earning 3,000 yuan ($360) per month while I'm just getting around 1,000 yuan ($120)," said Jason Li, a Shanghai University graduate - and his disappointment is quite common among young people.

Government efforts

"The large number of unemployed young people not only cause great losses to labour resources, but also threaten social stability," Yan said.

"Young people, as the most sensitive and active age group, if they have for a long time been under mental pressure, may have a bad influence on social security."

Nowadays, many work units, to cut costs, would rather employ middle-aged people in their 40s and 50s instead of young people, which makes job hunting for youth all the more difficult.

"However, the main reason behind the high unemployment rate among the youth lies in their inadequate capability, which is also the bottleneck facing the tough issue," Yan said.

The traditional teaching method divorces the practice from theory, which results in the low ability of youth in basic operation and many flaws in their professional knowledge.

The country's rapid development has been accompanied by higher demand for employees.

"Young people are the future of our country. Raising their competence brooks no delay," he said.

Starting this year, Shanghai has carried out an "internship plan". Some 40 big enterprises, including multinationals and large-scale State-owned enterprises, have joined in the campaign to provide some 1,700 intern opportunities for local youth between the ages of 16 and 25. They can work as interns at these big companies for three to six months.

During the period, both the interns and working units will get allowances from the government, and no labour contract needs to be signed between the two sides.

"One thing quite encouraging is that multinationals are very willing to co-operate with us. They even refuse government subsidies for taking interns," Yan said.

The plan can help youth gain work experience with large companies and improve their skills, providing them with some solid background when seeking jobs.

"The plan can help, but it is not a panacea. Young people should always bear in mind the need to constantly improve themselves," Yan added.

(Shanghai Star May 2, 2002)

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