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China Wants Youth to ‘Work in Factories’ as 12m Graduates Loom

China is facing an acute lack of skilled talent, particularly in AI and big data — segments in which the country’s job market has seen a good start this year

Tourists from mainland China take photos of the Hong Kong skyline
Tourists from mainland China take photos of the Hong Kong skyline. Photo: Reuters


China is hoping to steer its youth to take up vocational and technical jobs, with a record number of college students set to graduate in the country this year.

The world’s second-largest economy has been battling stubborn levels of youth-unemployment, which soared to a record high of 21.3% in June last year.

And while Beijing created 12.44 million new urban jobs last year, a top official warned the country still faces structural employment issues.


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One key issue is a lack of skilled talent, particularly in the artificial intelligence and big data segments, areas in which the Chinese job market has seen a good start this year, Human Resources Minister Wang Xiaoping said.

Wang added that China needs to spur young people to acquire technical skills and work in factories, in its efforts to nurture talent.

The Human Resources and Social Security Ministry estimates that almost 30 million jobs in the manufacturing sector will go unfilled by 2025, according to a report by South China Morning Post. That would be nearly half of all jobs in the industry.

In a report in last year, US consultancy firm McKinsey noted that while China’s demand for workers skilled in AI is set to grow sixfold by 2030, it only has enough talent to meet a third of that demand.

Separately, in a 2022 survey of senior business executives, 75% of Chinese respondents told the firm they faced difficulties in hiring skilled data scientists.

Filling the talent gap will be especially crucial for China as it looks to build self-sufficiency in critical technologies like semiconductors, AI and quantum computing amid a tech war with the West.



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Overall job market still slow

Aside from talent issues, the overall pressure on jobs has not eased either.

China could see 11.79 million college graduates this year. The country aims to create more than 12 million new urban jobs and keep its survey-based urban unemployment rate at around 5.5%.

Last year 12.44 million urban jobs were added, with urban unemployment at 5.2% on average, official data shows.

But headline indicators have tended to underplay the tension in China’s vast job market, especially among young people, including the millions of college graduates seeking work each year.

More than one in five of the roughly 100 million Chinese aged 16 to 24 were unemployed in June 2023, the latest figure before statistics bureau officials abruptly suspended the series.

China resumed publication of the data in January, but it now excludes college students, and put youth unemployment at 14.9% in December.

Authorities are under pressure to create enough jobs, particularly as ever more college graduates chase a shrinking pool of white-collar jobs in a weak economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Authorities will strengthen policy support to improve youth employment and help small private firms, Wang said.

At the start of the parliament session this week, the government unveiled its 2024 target for economic growth, aiming for an expansion of “around 5%”. China’s gross domestic product grew 5.2% last year.


  • Reuters, with additional inputs from Vishakha Saxena


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Vishakha Saxena

Vishakha Saxena is the Multimedia and Social Media Editor at Asia Financial. She has worked as a digital journalist since 2013, and is an experienced writer and multimedia producer. As a trader and investor, she is keenly interested in new economy, emerging markets and the intersections of finance and society. You can write to her at [email protected]


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