Overseas students are precious human resources given their creative and innovative potential. The education authorities have taken an approach to encourage students to make their own decisions to study or work at home or abroad.
But the big number of returnees still poses a big challenge to the already tense job market.
For example, about 10.76 million students, 1.67 million more than last year, is expected to graduate from college this year. According to the State Information Center, in 2021 the number of students abroad who came back to China for the first time exceeded 1 million, about 84.74 per cent of the total. Add to that the millions of returnees, and you will get an idea about the huge number of jobs the government has to create in 2022.
A report on Chinese students studying abroad released in November said that although the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed Chinese students’ overseas study plans, the demand more or less remains unchanged, as 91 per cent of those who planned to study abroad are still determined to do so, with only 9 per cent have changed their mind.
On the other hand, China’s remarkable economic growth has prompted an increasing number of students studying abroad to return home in search of greener pastures. According to the Ministry of Education’s 2020 data, 703,500 Chinese nationals were studying overseas in 2019, with 580,300 of them returning home, up 11.73 per cent year-on-year. And the number of overseas returnees looking for jobs kept rising in 2020 and 2021, according to a recent report by Zhaopin, an online recruitment platform.
Overseas students returning home to seek employment has become a trend, especially after the pandemic broke out, with over 70 per cent of them preferring to work in the country’s coastal region, particularly in first-tier cities, and nearly 60 per cent choosing to work in the finance, education, manufacturing, telecom or internet sectors.
However, overseas returnees are facing tougher competition and challenges in finding jobs at home amid the pandemic and changing global landscape, as well as the three-fold pressure of shrinking demand, supply slump and weakening expectations.
First, there is a supply-demand mismatch in the job market. For instance, the number of students expected to graduate from college this year, about 10.76 million, is more than the total number of newborns last year, about 10.62 million. Now combine the high numbers of overseas students expected to return home this year owing to the pandemic and the youths who graduated last year or before but did not get a job, in order to realize the huge pressure the labour market is under.
According to a Chinese Academy of Labor and Social Security survey, more than 30 per cent of micro and small businesses laid off employees in the fourth quarter of 2021, 47.6 per cent have not recruited new staff in the past year, and only 8.2 per cent have campus recruitment plans in the first quarter of this year, down 1.6 percentage points compared with the previous quarter. To make things worse, private enterprises, favoured by returnees, seem less willing to recruit overseas returnees, affecting the returnees’ employment prospects.
Second, just having overseas degrees does not mean the returnees have an advantage in finding jobs because most of them are postgraduates with similar majors. The Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange has said that more than half of overseas-returned talents spend one year pursuing a master’s degree without fully integrating into the local community. Also, some of the subjects the returnees study do not match the job requirements in China. And their lack of internship experience abroad could create more difficulties for them in the domestic job market.
But that’s not to say the returnees don’t have many advantages. The knowledge of a foreign language, the ability to make cultural adjustments, the experience of a multicultural environment, and innovative and independent thinking are indeed advantages.
Third, most of the returnees are children of relatively well-off families and might have lived in relative comfort when studying abroad. So it would be tough for many of them to take up a job with a beginning salary of a few thousand yuan a month in China.
Overseas returnees are finding it difficult to get jobs also because of the development of China’s labour market. Chinese parents and students should realize that today’s returnees have gradually lost their advantages over people who graduate from domestic colleges, and new recruits’ values should be judged by what they have learned in school and college, not by their certificates.
Given these facts, the government needs to optimize policies and help returnees find suitable jobs while encouraging State-owned and private enterprises to invest more to attract overseas-trained talents. It should also help returnees start their own businesses. As for the overseas returnees, they need to raise their competitiveness to succeed in China’s fast-developing job market.
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