China struggles with jobs crisis

August 7, 1998

YOUNG people of working age in China will not be allowed to seek jobs until they complete one to three years of higher education or professional training, according to a new government ruling.

The move is part of a strategy designed to ease the job crisis worsened by the more than 10 million lay-offs from state-owned enterprises so far this year.

The ruling will apply in 200 Chinese cities by the end of this year, extending to more regions next year, said Zhang Xiaojian, chief of vocational skill development under the ministry of labour and social security.

Between now and 2000, 18 million urban and 54 million rural youths will seek jobs. Probably one third of them are going to be disappointed.

Since March 1997, 63 cities have piloted the scheme, with 110,000 people going through the education process. "The compulsory training programme is designed to make junior and senior high-school graduates more competent, and cushion the pressure on job markets," Zhang said.

In urban and rural areas, 30 per cent of high-school leavers would normally enter the workforce without any vocational training, although it is a requirement of China's education and labour laws.

China has 17,000 vocational schools and 30,000 training centres capable of training 3.5 million people a year. Also, about 20,000 enterprises are able to provide training for their own staff. The government will decide on the courses to train young people for both current and future needs.

Only senior high-school graduates with one year of training and junior high-school graduates with three years of training will qualify for a licence to work, which will be issued by government labour departments.

Training programmes will be open to high-school graduates who fail entrance exams or do not wish to take up university places. In many cities youngsters are being required to sign training contracts with employers who designate institutions to carry out training.

As China changes from a planned to a market economy, the government says it plans to shift help towards those old and middle-aged workers, while demanding that young people square up to new challenges, Zhang said.

China's unemployment rate is about 5 per cent. A government report said that by the end of last year urban unemployment tipped 12.1 million and rural unemployment 150 million. Experts are stressing China should not let the unemployment rate go beyond 6 per cent, as China does not have a sound social insurance system.

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