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Skills gap of Chinese graduates proving to be a big headache for business

BEIJING--The hiring spree in China is at a new high, with some companies racing to fill thousands of positions — but finding the right people for the job has never been harder.

With 6.6 million fresh university graduates — 300,000 more than last year — set to flood the job market in coming months, companies say they are inundated with job applicants, but still face talent shortages.

These graduates may be qualified on paper, but lack the right skills and attitudes to survive in the workplace. Said Yang Jin, who runs a design and publishing company: “I'm looking to fill 50 positions, and I got 250 applicants when I went to the big university recruitment fairs in Beijing earlier this year.”

But he has hired only a dozen people so far.

“The university graduates nowadays are book smart but not street smart. I don't fault them for having no work experience, but it's hard to accept that they don't know how to do even basic things like a Powerpoint presentation, and refuse to do customer service,” said the graduate of a technical school in Shandong province.

Yang's company is one of a growing number that are eager to hire but hard-pressed to find workers who can hit the ground running when they join, let alone offer a good fit for the role.

A survey of 670 executives in China in March showed that 77 percent expect to increase hiring in the second quarter of this year, up from 64 percent a year ago.

But 73 percent expect it to be tougher to recruit top talent, citing “skills shortage” and “candidates demanding pay increases” as the top two challenges, said recruitment agency Hudson Highland Group.

While this so-called “skills gap” has plagued China across all levels and industries for several years now, the problem is particularly stark among entry-level hires with college degrees, say industry players. Not surprisingly, this has showed up in the growing difficulties faced by successive batches of university graduates in landing jobs.

Professor Li Peilin, a senior researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told an economic conference last week: “In the 1990s, 90 percent found jobs by the time they left school. Now it's about 68 percent.”

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