Peking job-seekers get in the swim: Chinese workers are savouring a new-found freedom to choose and change their jobs in a free market economy, writes Teresa Poole - World - News - The Independent

Peking job-seekers get in the swim: Chinese workers are savouring a new-found freedom to choose and change their jobs in a free market economy, writes Teresa Poole

HALF AN HOUR after the doors opened, thousands of young people were still milling around the entrance. Crowds were pressed up against the railings by the ticket desks, each outstretched arm proffering 2 yuan (15p) at the ticket- sellers in the hope of buying an entry pass. But the expansive China International Exhibition Centre was already full, said the officials, stubbornly insisting it was unsafe to let anyone else in until some people left.

Was this one of Peking's rare rock concerts, perhaps? Or a cut-price consumer electronics bazaar? Or, given that this was China, did this crush of humanity signal an offer of free food?

Not quite. This was the scene at the opening day of China's first National Talented Personnel Fair, a four- day job-hunting bonanza aimed at the cream of China's educational system and members of China's professional classes. Job mobility, and the freedom to change one's employer, is a booming phenomenon in China. One 28-year-old Peking man, fed up with his job in a nuclear power company, was inquiring about jobs in far western Xinjiang province. A 26-year-old metals engineering graduate from Liaoning province was looking for a better salary and a more relaxed working environment. A 39-year-old mathematics teacher from a remote region in Shaanxi wanted to find a new job in one of the fast-growing coastal areas of China.

In the jargon of the day, it is known as 'swimming' in the talent market. If the official figures are to be believed, more than 100,000 job-seekers attended this jobs fair. On the other side of the prospective partnership, 30 provinces and cities sent delegations, and 68 central government ministries were there looking for staff. Altogether, nearly 1,000 companies and organisations set up stalls where job application forms were disappearing as quickly at they were put out, and curriculum vitae were the currency of the day.

The freedom to choose one's job, and the freedom for employers to hire and fire a suitable workforce, is gradually seeping into China's employment system, transforming at least some people's career options. For the best-qualified workers it means the possibility of choosing where and how one wants to live and work; for the employers it is a challenge to beat the skills shortage that is threatening China's reforms. 'A nationwide grab for talent is on,' said one official from the Personnel Ministry. Underdeveloped areas have to provide inducements to attract staff: a diesel-engine manufacturer in the inland Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was said to have paid about pounds 12,000 to hire 11 graduates from Peking's prestigious Qinghua University.

Under the former, centrally planned economic system, graduates were allocated to jobs when they left university or college, and the strict household registration system meant Chinese people needed permission to move to another city. Once a job was assigned it could not be abandoned without the payment of a substantial fine. One physics teacher who was looking around the talent fair, graduated as recently as 1991 but said he must stay in his job for five years or pay a 20,000 yuan ( pounds 1,750) fine.

After a decade of economic reform, this system is now breaking down. Free-market principles are being allowed to overturn employment practices; wages are no longer set by the state, workers can be fired, those with skills can seek the most attractive offer, and people can change enterprises. The Shandong province talent- seeking delegation this month said it was looking for 10,000 technicians and experts. This may not come cheap. A new system is now evolving whereby either the graduate or the enterprise must pay a certain amount of money - up to pounds 1,000 - to the university or college if both sides want to come to their own employment arrangement. Even so, of the 32,000 graduates from Peking's colleges and universities this year, about 10 per cent paid to find their own jobs.

'Job markets' are sweeping China. Song Defu, the Personnel Minister, said this month that nearly 1,000 talent-exchange centres had been established in China to serve as 'a bridge between labour supply and demand'.

At the desk of a petrochemical company from Hainan province, the booming island off southern China, more than 1,000 people had applied for jobs. Joint venture companies, or those with the possibility of foreign travel, were the most popular. 'Air-conditioning is not so interesting, but this company offers the opportunity of going abroad,' said one final-year student.

The event at the China International Exhibition Centre this month was the first national jobs fair. According to one of the organisers from the Personnel Ministry, it was mainly aimed at those with tertiary education. Across the country, local job markets, like the one held every Sunday in the Xuanwu district of Peking, tend to be aimed mostly at those with high school education. The Xuanwu market has been visited by 100,000 people since it opened in August 1992, of whom 20,000 have found new jobs. Yang Chuan, the chief of the market, said: 'Most have jobs already. Many just want to change to a better job, with better conditions.' It was started because of 'demand from the labour force', which first started to emerge two or three years ago, he added. Each Sunday, around 70 companies, joint ventures, factories, shops and hotels set up desks at the Xuanwu workers club and talk to prospective, mostly white collar, staff. Job-seekers must bring an ID card and proof of their educational qualifications.

The Peking Fashion Knitwear Company was looking for shop assistants and said more than 40 people had already applied for the 10 vacancies. One woman filling in the form, at the moment a waitress, said she wanted the job because it was nearer where she lived. At a nearby desk, the Dong Fang hotel group said more than 100 applications had come in for waitressing and public relations jobs at their food and recreational company.

A 27-year-old manager from the Peking Commercial and Trading Company, looking for management personnel and electronic appliance maintenance men, explained: 'In the past, if the company needed some employee, we would submit an application to the Labour Bureau who would send us someone. Now we can choose, we can employ the people who meet our demands.'

For employees it is usually a trade-off between better pay in the new system, or the security of the old system. Job mobility means leaving behind the lifetime guarantees of the 'iron rice bowl' system which offered jobs, accommodation, and social services for life. This way a freer workforce also suits the government; it tempts people off the expensive meal-ticket-for-life system.

In practice, the mobility is not all it is in theory. Mr Mao, at the national jobs market, admitted that moving from the state sector to collective or privately owned enterprises 'still has some difficulty'. A management PhD student was even more sceptical: 'I don't have too high an expectation. Even if I come here and find a suitable work unit, it is still difficult to actually get a good job. Fair competition is still not so common in good work units.' By which he meant that a friendly connection with the company is often the best way to secure a good job.

On campuses, a popular saying encapsulates the ambitions of today's youth in China. 'To go abroad, to go to joint ventures, to the place with gold and the place with power.'

(Photograph omitted)

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week