China employment

China's civil service lottery

Over a million job seekers flock to a public servant exam as the public sector, which brings much-needed security, becomes the most desired employer.
China, Nanjing: A crowd of applicants swarm to take part in the national civil service examination in east China's Jiangsu province on Sunday (AFP)

In China, being an official brings power and power brings money, so working for the government is accepted as the best way to get ahead.

That mentality is highlighted each year when more than a million job seekers, mostly fresh graduates, flock to a civil service exam that most of them will fail.

About 1.5 million candidates nationwide applied and 1.12 million of them sat the exam on Sunday, according to the civil service administration. There were 15% more exam takers than last year, applying for about 21,000 local and state-level government jobs — which means roughly one job for every 53 applicants.

However, some jobs are more popular than others. One vacancy at a division under the National Bureau of Statistics received more than 9,400 applicants. Whereas those required to be based in the county’s remote and underdeveloped western areas received almost no applicants.

Overall, despite its humble name, the civil service is the most desired profession in China thanks to the security it offers. With no sound legal or justice system and an underdeveloped social safety net, being a mandarin is the closest thing to a guarantee of a good salary and handsome benefits. It is also the preferred way for children from common families to advance in life.

The Chinese government expects the number of applicants to be even higher next year. The employment market for college graduates will be tougher in 2013 as the number of university graduates will reach nearly 7 million, according to the education ministry. The soaring enthusiasm for civil service jobs has fuelled fears of a brain drain from other productive sectors.

The exam, which was started in 1994, is held annually. It includes a so-called aptitude test, or test on general knowledge, and an essay-writing test. Those who pass the written exam will make it to the interview round.

So what do you need to know to outdo 10,000 peers? This year, many applicants complained that the test questions were quite obscure — from the theme songs of the Olympic Games to the uses of herbs in Chinese traditional medicine. One question asked for the names of China’s satellites and their functions, even though such information is not usually available to the public.

China’s urban registered unemployment rate stood at 4.1% at the end of the June and September quarters this year, according to the human resources and social security ministry. That is lower than the official target of 4.6%.

The country created more than 10 million new jobs in urban areas during the first nine months of 2012, exceeding the annual target of 9 million. During the period, a total of 4.32 million laid-off workers were re-hired in urban areas, meeting the annual target of getting 5 million unemployed workers back to jobs, the government said.

However, economists argue China’s official data on the jobless rate doesn’t always tell the full picture — the real problem may be more serious, as the employment situation of many migrant workers is difficult to track.

The latest generation of civil servants may know their way around a Chinese medicine cabinet, but will they be able to cure China’s ills?

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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