Labor Market Mismatches Aren’t Unique To The U.S.

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Reading the news here in Shanghai, I came across an article of interest to those of us concerned with helping young people find meaningful careers (see Reuters reported (June 7, 2014) that “China is waking up to a potentially damaging mismatch in its labor market.”

A record 7.27 million graduates will enter the market this year – a market that has a shortage of skilled workers. Yet many of the university and college students are ill-equipped to fill those jobs, prompting the government to look at how it can overhaul the higher education system to bridge the gap. As in the US the problem is part structural and part attitudinal. There is a greater need for skilled laborers than schools are producing; for instance, there’s a gap of 600,000 computer-automated machine tool operators this year. At the same time, many of the students graduating from the universities don’t want the skilled labor jobs.

In the US, we similarly have countless trade industries (e.g., health care workers, electricians, etc.) seeking young people to fill their excess job capacity; while students are being encouraged to go to universities for white-collar jobs that they know that they know little about. While we’re not willing to make a major commitment to helping young people, for whom these might be ideal jobs, get the training and encouragement to seek them out, China is about to do so. The education Vice Minister Lu Xin reported that they are going to turn more than 600 local universities into higher-education vocational colleges. China has 879 public universities and colleges, according to a 2013 ministry list. One student, 22 year old Li Xidong, expressed the right attitude. While most liberal arts students are still looking for work this summer, he is prepared to start a job as an electrician – a job he landed before graduating his small vocational college. “I can start in the factories and work my way up step, by step.” He hopes to pick up the practical skills from this experience to allow him to move on to more advanced electrical work and become part of the management team in the future.

What should we be doing as a national policy to help students start meaningful careers as soon as they can? Share your ideas.