Sick of working long hours for average pay, Dong Liang is looking to throw in his job at a small tech company in Shenzhen for work with China’s civil service.
The 24-year-old from Huizhou city in Guangdong province is one of millions of young Chinese desperate to find steady work in a time of deep economic uncertainty following the coronavirus pandemic.Though he has been employed in China’s fast-growing tech sector since he graduated in 2018, the country’s vast bureaucracy holds an irresistible allure, promising a stable career for life and a host of benefits.
“I have been working a lot of overtime in the past two years and the tech company’s future is so uncertain,” he said a day before an interview for a provincial civil service job.
“Every workmate beyond 35 likes talks about their concern over job losses in Shenzhen – it’s just exhausting.”
China’s overall job market has improved steadily as the economy has rebounded from the worst of the pandemic early last year, but young people, particularly fresh graduates from universities, are still having a hard time finding steady employment.
As a result, a new wave of young Chinese talent is spurning the private sector and settling for jobs with the nation’s civil service. Their enthusiasm for the public sector has only grown in recent months after last year’s economic downturn, as well as the government’s decision to delay the retirement age and the high-profile regulatory difficulties of some private businesses.
More than 1.58 million candidates registered for China’s national civil service exam this year, up sharply from 1.05 million in 2009 and 125,000 in 2003. They will compete for about 25,700 jobs at ministries and state agencies, putting the average chance of landing a government job at about one in 61.If provincial and municipal government exams are included, there are up to 9 million candidates – most of whom are
Li’s ambitious plan is to build a full civil service employment service chain, from exam training to headhunting services for top government jobs.
The 36 year old is looking for investors, predicting a 20-person team could achieve more than 30 million yuan (US$4.6 million) in annual revenues in Shenzhen alone.
“Authorities’ demand and budgets for recruiting talent are higher than in previous years,” Li said. “The attraction of a civil service career is also unprecedentedly high among young people.
“If a young person’s stereotype of a civil service position was a stable but dull, low-income job five to 10 years ago, obvious changes have taken place in the past five years, whether it is because of changes in China’s political and economic atmosphere or public concern about China’s rapid ageing.”
New Chinese graduates are also more patriotic and willing to support Communist Party philosophy than the previous two generations, he added.
In many cases, there is a simple financial calculation too – the incomes of civil servants are normally far superior to those offered by private companies.
Dong said if he was successful in securing a junior officer post at a town-level government in Huizhou city in the
By contrast, workers who graduated with computer science degrees in 2019 earned the highest income among all professions, with an average monthly salary of 6,858 yuan, according to the Yuekai Securities Research Institute.
A principal staff member in a district-level department in Shenzhen could earn an annual income of more than 300,000 yuan, Li said.
The growth of a civil service support industry in recent years reflects the changing job tastes of young Chinese, who are now more willing to look away from the private sector.
The trend has also minted a new class of Chinese education entrepreneurs. Since 2019, Li Yongxin, co-founder and chairman of civil service exam training firm Offcn Education Technology, has been the richest person in China’s education sector, according to the Hurun China Rich List. He has topped the list with a net worth of US$13 billion after building an empire on helping graduates understand what it takes to work for the government.
Earlier business leaders like Yu Minhong, the founder of English-language training giant New Oriental Education and Technology Group, tapped demand in the early 2000s for English education that was considered critical for young Chinese looking for a job with the government or foreign firms.
Making money in China’s education sector has gone through a major transformation in recent years, according to Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder of Hurun Report.
Cindy Jiang, who graduated from Beijing’s Peking University in 2000, said the attitude of Chinese graduates looking for work was different compared to 20 years ago.
“In the 1990s and even 2000s, we college students began to prepare for the GRE test as soon as we enrolled,” she said, referring to the Graduate Record Exam test that is an admissions requirement for graduate schools in the US, Canada and other countries.
“For the best Chinese graduates at that time, the best career was to study abroad or work for multinational companies that were flocking to the Chinese market, such as McDonald’s, Marlboro, foreign law firms, and audit firms.
“These standardised global brands were the most fashionable and the professions that gave us the most self worth when we young Chinese yearned to eat McDonald’s, drink Coca-Cola, wear Nike, and smoke Marlboros like the rest of the world.”
But China’s millennials and Generation Z have very different views about what type of jobs provide self worth.
Many are also growing wary of the cut throat competition in China’s corporate world, including the so-called 996 culture
“I found that even the masters and doctoral degrees at Tsinghua and Peking University failed to provide a competitive advantage in the job market, so I changed my mindset and started to prepare for the civil service exam,” said Tong Tong, a postgraduate student at Nanjing University in her 20s.
In February, Tong gave up an offer to pursue a PhD and instead took the civil service exams in Guangdong and Hainan provinces. She has since been hired for a post in a subdistrict office in Shenzhen.
“The current job market atmosphere is very bad, everyone has high expectations about going into the government system,” she said.
“Although the work doesn’t require high skills, you can really benefit people, promote policies or help resolve local issues. My personal feeling is that it is more meaningful for my life.”
Li Xiaoyi is also turning to the government for security amid uncertain times. Though she is employed by a state-affiliated institute in Foshan, Guangdong province, she will soon take her third civil service exam, which she hopes will allow her to find a safe career.
“After the Covid-19 pandemic, the companies I worked for closed down one by one, and the wages of the next jobs kept getting lower and lower, so the idea of applying for civil service emerged in my mind,” Li said.