Bridges to bright future for young talents
Published: May 14, 2023 10:56 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

More than 11.5 million students will graduate from Chinese universities and colleges this year, up more than 820,000 from 2022. In cities such as Beijing, the number of graduate students is expected to surpass the number of undergraduates, as more young people stay longer at universities in the hopes that having more qualifications will give them better prospects. However, in July 2022, graduation season, the unemployment rate for youths aged 16-24 was a staggering 19.9 percent, according to a survey. Roughly speaking, there are three reasons why their academic degrees can't help them secure a decent job. 

First, there is the structural unemployment caused by the mismatch between supply and demand. Here looms a quiet crisis - of unemployed graduates who weren't trained for the jobs that are out there and too many have been trained for jobs that may go away rather than being equipped with the skills that will be even more valuable. On the one hand, fresh graduates face a bleak job market and fierce competition. On the other hand, the shortage of highly-skilled talented individuals means it is difficult for employers to fill job vacancies, especially those that are technical in nature and require experience. 

Second, a discrepancy exists between students' degrees and their practical experiences. One typical example can be seen in graduates with majors in business-related disciplines such as marketing and public relations, whose expertise in theoretical knowledge usually cannot be immediately applied to their work and bring tangible rewards to their employers. Rather, many favored employees are those with first-hand knowledge accumulated through experience. 

Third, the lingering stigma around blue-collar jobs among frustrated graduates who aren't willing to do menial work or manual labor that they see as beneath them. On social media, they mock themselves saying that their multiple degrees make them overqualified and unemployable. 

We all bear the responsibility to help young people better adapt to a world of work that's changing at warp speed. As policymakers, we need to make it our national mission to build a skills economy to connect a new generation with all the opportunities and ambitions of the future. As educators, we need to think beyond degrees and certificates and pay more attention to skill development rather than content knowledge so as to prepare youth for the coming skills revolution. Instead of "What do you want to do?" We should be asking, "Who do you want to be?" 

As employers, we need to rethink the way we hire, retrain and continuously reshape our workforce. Besides, more collaboration among government, universities and industries will facilitate the transition, which can be seen as building bridges.

Bridge to communication and interaction 

A national-level platform launched by the government is highly needed where representatives from universities and industries get together to exchange ideas and opinions. They can give feedback to policymakers, meanwhile, as the government takes advantage of the world of instant information, with insight and vision they can update guidelines that align with the country's major national strategy and constantly optimize an institutional framework for university-enterprise cooperation that includes guiding principles, forms, promotional measures and supervision. And thus, through dialogue and collaboration, universities will prepare students for career success and build a strategic talent pool for the country. 

A typical illustration is the establishment of China's first Master of Carbon Economics program by the School of Applied Economics at Renmin University of China. It was approved by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2022 to serve the national "Dual Carbon" strategy and deal with global climate change. In addition, the MOE recently announced that a total of 14,546 cooperation projects to support employment have been established between 794 enterprises and 1,861 higher education institutions with direct funding reaching 1.48 billion yuan ($212.6 million).

Bridge to training and retraining 

Training is the key to equipping students with problem-solving abilities and enabling them to adapt to the workplace. Retraining helps the workforce to stay updated and flexible. A skills economy calls for a mobile, skilled workforce that keeps learning, training and upgrading to meet the demands of a changing world. And therefore, it is important for us to create a pipeline for talented people to receive training and retraining throughout their lifetime to flourish in a time of profound economic, social and technological transformation. 

Bridge to lifelong learning 

Individuals must develop the ability and habit of lifelong learning in order to adapt to a fast-changing world and services for personalized learning. While national platforms like the Smart Education of China serve as a lifelong learning tool, there is still more to do. 

Singapore, as a good example, has pivoted to lifelong learning through something called Skills Future, a $1 billion undertaking that has transformed the country's education sector and labor market. The initiative, which supports Singaporeans through all life stages starting with kindergarten, empowers individuals, employers and educators to promote and pursue upskilling and career mobility. Among other things, Skills Future offers an online education and career guidance portal for all students, allocates and periodically tops up a $500 training credit for all career professionals over 25 years old, and subsidizes at least 90 percent of course costs for Singaporeans over 40 years of age. The Singapore attempt could enlighten our design and we may ask questions like, "Can employees, employers and governments contribute to lifelong learning funds to finance re-skill programs as a way to finance retirement?"

Education, science and technology, and human resources are the foundational and strategic pillars for building a modern socialist country in all respects and we must regard talents as our primary resource. If we only complete education but fail to create jobs that promote social progress, so that a large number of college graduates are frustrated in finding a decent job, it means that there is a problem with the overall planning of our society. As stakeholders, our government, universities and industries are in desperate need to form a collaborative force to examine and evaluate and pave the way for a prosperous future for the next generation.  

The author is a faculty member with the School of Applied Economics, Renmin University of China.