High pay and good experience attract students amid fierce competition
Fu Siyu will take a flight from Beijing to Singapore early on Monday morning. The 20-year-old, who majors in international economy and trade, will work in sales at a bookstore at Singapore Changi Airport for the next two years.
Fu is one of the 7.27 million university students who will graduate in China in June, almost equal to the population of Switzerland.
Many universities allow students to use their last semester to look for jobs and internships amid fierce competition. Some, including the Shandong Foreign Languages Vocational College, where Fu studies, even allow their students to look for opportunities in overseas markets.
The college in Rizhao launched a three-year campaign to send 1,000 students overseas in December, said Du Lin, vice-president of the college.
About 3,000 students graduated from the college in 2013 and about 100 landed jobs, mainly as salespeople at tax-free shops at international airports, or as teachers or hotel workers in countries such as Singapore, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
"Salaries (in developed countries) are much higher, so our students are willing to work abroad," Du said.
The starting salary is about 3,000 yuan to 4,000 yuan ($500 to $660) for graduates in China, but those going abroad can earn about 10,000 yuan for the same job, she said.
"We will reform our curriculum by training students to meet the requirements of foreign companies and teach them interview skills," she said.
Du's college has even registered a commercial agency to help people apply for work visas and book flights.
Fu signed up for the overseas work program after attending a campus job fair in the summer. After that, she paid 30,000 yuan to apply and went for several interviews, including for sales jobs in a beauty salon and at the airport.
"All interviews were in English," said Fu, who hails from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. "I guess the interviewers wanted to find out our communication skills, attitude toward the job and our appearance."
Fu paid 5,000 yuan for almost two months of training to improve her oral English as well as culture courses for Singapore.
On Dec 30, Fu received the offer to work at the Changi airport with a monthly salary of S$1,500 ($1,180) for eight hours a day, five days a week, with an annual one-week vacation.
"I look forward to learning new things in a new environment and improving my English," she said.
Shandong province sends about 50,000 workers overseas a year, although most are unskilled workers taking jobs in construction, farming and deforestation projects, said Zhang Peng, deputy director of the division of economic cooperation under the province's commerce department.
He said it has become more difficult to recruit migrant workers for overseas markets, as the pay disparity between home and abroad for manual work is disappearing.
"Japan is the top destination for our province's labor force, but the annual income for a Chinese migrant worker nowadays is not that different from the amount there 20 years ago. Plus, the Japanese yen has been depreciating," Zhang said.
Labor-intensive industries in developed countries are also turning to much cheaper labor in Southeast Asia and South Asia.
"We realize it's urgent to upgrade our labor strategy," Zhang said.
"It's a win-win situation to encourage college graduates to work overseas, as it can relieve the domestic employment pressure and many students are happy to have overseas work experience, considering it an important way to broaden their horizons and become more competitive," Zhang said.
The Shandong government started to encourage college students to seek jobs overseas in 2010, said Li Liang, director of the service center for Shandong College Graduates' Employment Information.
As of 2013, about 3,000 students who graduated from colleges in Shandong have been sent abroad for work, according to the service center.
"Singapore, Japan and the Middle East recruit the most graduates from Shandong," Li said. "The annual income for most is about two to five times that of their counterparts in China."
Chinese language teachers, nurses, engineers and technicians, sales and administrative staff members in the tourism and retail industries are the most-wanted skills in developed economies, said Zong Qiuhong, who is in charge of overseas employment for Changchun Talent International, a recruitment agency in Jilin province.
Chinese people's increasing enthusiasm for travel abroad and splurging on luxurious items have made overseas employers from the retail and tourism industries desperate to hire bilingual talent, especially native Chinese speakers, she said.
In Singapore, she explained, the brain drain of domestic talent and the aging population creates numerous job opportunities for Chinese graduates. Given its large Chinese community and favorable immigration policies, Singapore is often the first choice for many job seekers.
The commerce authorities in Jilin invited dozens of licensed recruitment agencies with about 3,400 vacancies to a job fair dedicated to college graduates in Changchun in late November.
Although about 300 students left contact information at the exhibition, only a third finally sent their resumes for application, said Gu Hongming, director of Jilin's overseas employment administration.
Zhang with Shandong's commerce department said factors including safety in a foreign country and service charges for recruitment agencies also scare some students away.
Lin Yanling, a professor of labor studies at the China Institute of Industrial Relations, said employment options overseas will always be limited for Chinese graduates, as most countries prioritize offering jobs for their nationals.
"However, global labor is becoming less restrained by borders, so it's important for our students and universities to diversify employment channels," she said.
Han Junhong in Changchun and Qi Xin in Zhengzhou contributed to this story.