Chinese cities are offering free accommodations to jobseekers as the country prepares for another record batch of university graduates. With the job market already fiercely competitive, many graduates are moving to new cities to increase their chances of securing employment. These free housing schemes are being launched in various third- and fourth-tier cities across the country to ease the financial burden on jobseekers and lure young talent.
Sally Zhang, a 23-year-old from Sichuan, moved to Shanghai in April to look for work. Before she found a job and rented a long-term shared flat, she couch-surfed around the city, staying with friends or in cheap hostels. One of the most memorable stays was a free five-day stay in a studio flat in the northern suburban district of Baoshan, which she applied for as part of the government’s initiative to support young jobseekers.
Baoshan launched its free-housing scheme in June last year. Eligible applicants are completing their undergraduate, graduate or doctoral studies this year and have a job-interview invitation from a local company. They can apply for stays of up to five days. Pudong, another Shanghai district, followed suit early this year. Across the country, many local governments have been introducing similar schemes to help fresh graduates.
In neighboring Jiangsu province, multiple cities have offered graduates free housing for up to 14 days while they search for work. Nanjing, the provincial capital, designated 500 rooms across 12 sites for free two-week stays for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree or above within the past two years. In Zhuhai, Guangdong province, anyone under the age of 35 with a junior college diploma or above can apply for a seven-day free stay at designated hotels.
The initiatives come as a record 11.58 million fresh graduates are expected to enter China’s job market in the coming months, while the nation’s economy is still feeling the impact of pandemic-control policies that were lifted only late last year. The schemes not only help graduates with their immediate financial burden but also make it easier for them to move to new cities to look for work.
Zhang explained that she chose to move to Shanghai in April instead of June, fearing the fierce competition. With so many graduates entering the job market simultaneously, finding work has become increasingly challenging. The free-housing schemes make it easier for graduates to attend interviews and move to new cities to look for work. Even job seekers in their mid-thirties can take advantage of the free rooms in some lower-tier cities, and some stays can span weeks.
While the schemes have been welcomed by many, some have criticized them as a short-term solution to a much larger problem. The job market in China is highly competitive, and the government needs to do more to create sustainable job opportunities for young people. Graduates are often underpaid and overworked, and the pandemic has only worsened the situation. Many graduates struggle to find work and those who do often face poor working conditions.
Despite the challenges, the free-housing schemes are a positive step towards helping young jobseekers in China. They provide temporary relief for graduates struggling to make ends meet and help them pursue job opportunities in new cities. As the pandemic continues to impact the economy, more local governments will likely introduce similar initiatives to support graduates and encourage young talent to stay in their cities.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the surveyed jobless rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in China has continued to rise, reaching 19.6% in March, up from 18.1% the previous month. This highlights the difficulties young jobseekers face in a highly competitive job market. In response, local governments across China have been rolling out free-accommodation campaigns to support fresh graduates in their job search.
While the free-housing schemes have been welcomed by many, Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the China National Academy of Educational Sciences, believes that the ultimate solution to the job market’s difficulties is tied to the extent of the economic recovery. He explains that in the past couple of years, many companies were hurt by the pandemic, and they are unlikely to recover to a level of more hiring in the short term. Furthermore, most jobseekers lack the skills businesses demand, as students tend to focus on academic studies rather than developing practical skills. Therefore, the employment outlook for young people is not optimistic from this perspective.
The central government has set a GDP growth target of 5% for this year and plans to create around 12 million urban jobs, up from last year’s 11 million. However, Shi Lei, a professor of economics at Fudan University, warns that China needs to achieve a much higher economic growth rate to meet the job demand from graduates and migrant workers.
His study shows that 1% of economic growth translates to 1 million to 1.5 million jobs. Therefore, to keep unemployment below an acceptable level, China needs a growth rate of 6% or higher. Shi explains that an unemployment rate below 6% is a basic criterion for social stability that cannot be broken. Therefore, China must pursue quantity in terms of GDP growth before it can focus on the quality and efficiency of the national economy.
The Chinese government has been taking various measures to support the economy, such as investing in infrastructure, promoting innovation, and expanding domestic consumption. It is also encouraging entrepreneurship and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises. These measures may help create more job opportunities, particularly in technology and green energy sectors. The government also promotes vocational education and training to help young people acquire practical skills and improve their job prospects.
However, there is still a long way to go to ensure that all graduates can access quality job opportunities. The government must work with businesses to create more sustainable jobs offering decent pay and good working conditions. It must also address the skills gap by promoting a more balanced education system combining academic knowledge and practical skills.
China’s overall job market has improved since it lifted its stringent COVID-19 controls in late 2020. The national surveyed jobless rate dropped to 5.3% in March, slightly better than February’s rate of 5.6%. Despite the improvement, young job seekers still face significant challenges in securing quality employment.
Sally Zhang, who will soon receive her undergraduate degree from Sichuan University of Media and Communications, was pleased to have secured a job as an event coordinator at a startup firm in Shanghai, even though the position pays only about 7,000 yuan (US$1,000) a month, much less than the city’s official average pay of 11,396 yuan. Zhang is one of many job market newcomers willing to accept lower pay in exchange for learning opportunities and room for growth.
According to recruitment company Zhaopin.com, more people have been choosing small and micro-sized businesses as their first employer, which is a pragmatic choice under increased job pressure and in line with lowered expectations for pay. The average expected monthly salary for the class of 2022 was 6,295 yuan, or 6% less than a year earlier.
Zhou Yaming, director of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, acknowledges that young jobseekers have encountered unprecedented challenges since 2020 due to the pandemic. The pressure is still mounting this year as the number of graduates keeps growing. In an online interview with Radio Shanghai, Zhou called on society to be mindful of the issue of college graduates’ employment and to give them more attention and support.
Zhou also advised graduates to have reasonable expectations about positions and pay, to develop a positive mindset, and to strive for full employment. While the current job market is challenging, opportunities are still available for those willing to work hard and stay optimistic.
To improve the employment prospects of young people, the Chinese government needs to focus on creating more sustainable job opportunities and addressing the skills gap. It also needs to provide more support to small and micro-sized businesses, which are a vital source of employment in the country.
In addition, educators need to promote a more balanced education system that combines academic knowledge with practical skills. Graduates who have practical skills and work experience are more likely to succeed in the job market and build fulfilling careers.