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Unemployed Chinese Graduates Say No Thanks To Factory Jobs 366

hackingbear writes "While people and politicians are pitching for more education and reviving manufacturing in this country, jobs go begging in factories while many college educated young workers, which now number 11 times more than in 1989, are unemployed or underemployed in China. A national survey of urban residents, released this winter by a Chinese university, showed that among people in their early 20s, those with a college degree were four times as likely to be unemployed as those with only an elementary school education. Yet, it is not about the pay. Many factories are desperate for workers, despite offering double-digit annual pay increases and improved benefits, while an office job would initially pay as little as a third of factory wages. The glut of college graduates is eroding wages even for those with more marketable majors, like computer science. Vocational schools and training programs are unpopular because they suffer from a low status [or are seen as] for people from unsuccessful, poor, or peasant backgrounds. 'The more educated people are, the less they want to work in a factory,' said an unemployed graduate. If we do succeed bringing back factory jobs, are there enough people who want them?"
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Unemployed Chinese Graduates Say No Thanks To Factory Jobs

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  • It's the stigma (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ltap ( 1572175 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:20PM (#42701603) Homepage
    People still see factory jobs as being for "stupid" people and they are generally looked down on, while even terrible office work is considered acceptable. This shouldn't be.
    • Re:It's the stigma (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alostpacket ( 1972110 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:28PM (#42701689) Homepage

      True, but you also dont spend years educating yourself in order to work on a factory line. Even bad office work is a start to an employment history and could lead to better opportunities down the road. Factory jobs just lead to more of the same.*

      *That said I can't even pretend I have any full grasp of how employment works in China.

      • by fliptout ( 9217 )

        Menial jobs in China are basically indentured servitude with few opportunities for advancement or even opportunities to find out what else is out there. Skipping these jobs, for an educated worker, is totally understandable.

        • seriously? factory job == menial job? did you read about how factory workers can go work in different factories easily?

          • Re:It's the stigma (Score:4, Interesting)

            by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Saturday January 26, 2013 @03:49PM (#42702483) Journal
            Have you SEEN how shitty the air is in China? Where do you think that foulness is coming from? People are making the mistake of thinking like an American with our clean and more or less safe working conditions to those in China where its such a nasty grimy dead end job that they had to put nets around Foxconn to catch the jumping workers, remember?
            • you do realize 20 years ago america looked just like china.

              WE got an EPA with teeth that businesses cry over as now they can't dump their toxic waste into the drinking water, and have to filter the exhaust stacks of the chemical factories.

              It wasn't factory jobs. It was forcing companies to clean up after themselves. Also if we can't find people to do menial work in america now(why else to illegal immgrants come work the farms. why do people think we will flock to menial factory jobs? Hell right now if yo

      • That's not true. My first holiday job while at college was on a factory floor (in Scotland). They did quite regularly recruit for their production engineers and so on off the factory floor.

      • Re:It's the stigma (Score:5, Insightful)

        by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @03:52PM (#42702507)

        Not to mention if the choice is between "bad office work" and Foxconn... I think the choice is clear.

        It sounds like Chinese workers want the same thing that American workers want: better working conditions. If the pay isn't sufficient to draw adequate quantity of talent then you need to start upping your incentives. Reduce quotas and hours (after all more than 40 hours a week is a waste of money since you're just paying overtime for someone to do the same amount of work), improve working conditions (maybe mix up positions throughout the day to prevent repetitive injuries and strain) etc.

        • Re:It's the stigma (Score:5, Interesting)

          by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @06:58PM (#42703857) Journal
          It also sounds like they have a "buyers market" for labour, workers can pick and choose because there are plenty of jobs and businesses are forced to react by making more attractive offers. Henry Ford famously did the same thing with his factory (the largest in the world at the time). He dramatically cut workers hours at the same time as handing out massive pay increases, and then made a big noise about it in the newspapers. Workers flocked to the Ford factory looking for a job, (somewhat counter-intuitively) productivity also went through the roof. A direct result of Ford's policy was that it pushed the US into a 40hr week much faster than the unions could have done so alone, it was a glaring example to all that such a move would not destroy the economy..

          When I was a kid China was still suffering the last of Mao's self-induced famines, I'm pretty sure most workers in China look at today's job market as a blessing rather than a problem because at the end of the day, finding and retaining workers is a rich man's problem and a common man's opportunity.
    • Well the whole being locked in and dieing in fire because the owners locked the fire doors is a bit of a disincentive ala Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      In the past in the USA, american corporations had career paths where someone could start as a mail-room worker and move all the way up to CEO (working in the mail-room would have given someone insider knowledge of all the important departments, who spent the most time talking to who).

      In the UK, manufacturing companies had or have inhouse training programs to allow employees to migrate up from junior positions to R&D and/or management positions.

    • Re:It's the stigma (Score:5, Interesting)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @04:07PM (#42702621)
      Maybe it's not about stigma, but simply about how hard work is vs. how much it pays?

      We have become so deeply ingrained with the idea that easier work should pay more, that we simply can't imagine it any other way.

      My first job was planting gladiola bulbs. I might have made $30 over the summer (granted not a huge number of hours). Then delivering newspapers, then milk, then cashier, and so on, through computer support, web development, jr. programmer... today I have an office job as a researcher making over 20 times as much per hour as I made as a cashier. I would not pick fruit for the same pay, let alone 20% the pay.

      Without exception, every job has been easier and paid better than the last.

      • Re:It's the stigma (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @04:58PM (#42703051)

        Those jobs haven't been easier and paid better. Those jobs have been less physically demanding and paid better, which isn't the same thing.

      • There's two variables that I think you're conflating: skill, and energy.

        Research is a high-skill, low-energy job. Gladiola bulb planting is (I imagine) a low-skill, high-energy job. The amount a job pays is basically proportional to how many people are willing and able to do it. A low-skill, low-energy job is basically the bottom of the barrel. A low-skill, high-energy job is the next step up - there are fewer people willing to put up with the physical demands of the job, so they'll get a slightly higher pa

    • In the book "The China Price", a factory worker is discussed who had his hand mangled in an injection molder. He was left to fend for himself with a tiny bit of "compensation" from the factory. No wonder smart people in China want to avoid factory jobs -- they are not like factory jobs in the USA. See:
      "The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage" by Alexandra Harney []
      "In this landmark work of investigative reporting,

  • And why should they? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eksith ( 2776419 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:22PM (#42701619) Homepage

    Let's be honest, college in China is no where near the difficulty as in the U.S. It's even harder than Japan if folks who've been to both countries are to be belived. You work hard for an education, you deserve something better than being a semi-automoton.

    But he will not consider applying for a full-time factory job because Mr. Wang, as a college graduate, thinks that is beneath him...

    “I have never and will never consider a factory job — what’s the point of sitting there hour after hour, doing repetitive work?” he asked.

    Now we get on our graduates' cases when they complain about doing menial jobs. It's a tough first year (or 5) right after school, but in places like China where you're competing against literally millions in the same line, what are your odds of personal advancement without connections?

  • by Art3x ( 973401 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:26PM (#42701675)

    From the summary:

    Vocational schools and training programs are unpopular because they suffer from a low statue of for people from unsuccessful, poor, or peasant backgrounds.

    Can anyone tell me what this sentence means?

    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      It's marginally clearer if one reads "status" for "statue", and if one uses a comma instead of the nonsensical "of":

      Vocational schools and training programs are unpopular because they suffer from a low status, for people from unsuccessful, poor, or peasant backgrounds.

      Still not great, but at least it's gone from "gibberish" to "barely comprehensible".

      • My guess:

        Vocational schools and training programs are unpopular because they suffer from a low statue of four people from unsuccessful, poor, or peasant backgrounds.

        That darn statue! Quit making those schools suffer, you, you...oooooh!

    • What I understood from this summary is that chinese graduates are accusing Steve Jobs about factory conditions.

  • by some old guy ( 674482 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:30PM (#42701703)

    We've all heard the ancient urban myths about PhD's flipping burgers, but here in the States there seems to be a social stigma among younger graduates attached to manufacturing jobs that sometimes clouds one's financial judgement. Holding out for a cool-sounding title and a comfy chair over a steady job that pays considerably more, just because a lot of rednecks or minorities work there too, just doesn't make sense. You can still pursue your dream job while you earn a living, and you can do your laughing at the other people on payday.

    • "We've all heard the ancient urban myths about PhD's flipping burgers"

      Ah ... yes. Who could forget about the Grecian tale of the Red Dragon who descended upon Plato, forced him to educate him, and then was banished through a wormhole, where was forced to flip burgers at the entrance to a popular vomitorium.

    • by Lonewolf666 ( 259450 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:55PM (#42701981)

      Here in Germany, there are some factory jobs that can compete with the salary one would get as an engineer, but not many.
      And they tend to be skilled jobs, so it is not just a matter of "oh, I feel like doing manufacturing for a change", you usually have to show that you've successfully completed some form of vocational training. So the graduate who has never worked in a factory before might not be accepted for these jobs.

      He could try for an unskilled job instead but the pay is much lower then. The Chinese situation seems pretty unique.

      • Engineer is often a factory job. I'm sure many Chinese Engineering graduates are taking 'factory jobs', same as everywhere.

        But I don't think they are talking about engineers, mold and die makers or even machinists.

        These people are turning down butt basic assembly line jobs. I guess Chinese liberal arts students don't say 'do you want fries with that' they say, nothing. They are too busy screwing together iPhones.

    • but here in the States there seems to be a social stigma among younger graduates attached to manufacturing jobs that sometimes clouds one's financial judgement.

      From the article, writing about China:

      "Students themselves have not adjusted to the concept of mass education, so students are accustomed to seeing themselves as becoming part of an elite when they enter college" ... China has a millenniums-old Confucian tradition in which educated people do not engage in manual labor.

      The US used to be more about manufacturing, and there was no disgrace to being an engineer in a factory. There was a certain contempt for "college men" as impractical and lazy. That lasted through WWII and into the 1950s. Then came the post-war education boom, a vast number of college graduates, and, for a while, jobs for them. Then came information technology, and a huge cutback in paper-pushing.

      China is going into their education boom with the paper-pushing era al

      • Engineer is still 'king of the factory' in the same sense that a doctor is 'king of the hospital'.

        And Engineers (the kind in factories as opposed to locomotives) were almost always 'college men'. What was held in contempt was 'useless' education. Navel gazing etc.

    • College graduates tend to stay away from factories usually because they're afraid of becoming too comfortable. I didn't graduate college, but I've been programming since I was 13. Landed a programming job right out of high school. Got laid off(temporarily) for about a year and half. After savings ran out, I had to work somewhere. A factory job was my only choice. Sure, it was a living. But, while I was there, I didn't come home wanting to program. I couldn't just work there and pursue other interests. The w
      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        College graduates tend to stay away from factories usually because they're afraid of becoming too comfortable.

        I doubt one in ten college graduates has this fear much less that expectation of comfortable jobs anywhere near a factory. In the case you mention, I suspect the real reason you didn't see a lot of college graduates is because this employer didn't hire them.

        College graduates can always move on and do something else, if they don't like what they're doing. That's pretty much what you did. This employer most likely wants people without such options.

      • by xaxa ( 988988 )

        College graduates tend to stay away from factories usually because they're afraid of becoming too comfortable.

        Do they have the luxury of choice? I know a couple of graduates who I think are a bit comfortable doing menial office work, but that's at least better than being too comfortable living on benefits (which is not too difficult here).

        I live in London, where there is relatively very little manufacturing (see category [], the little there is is mostly food), I don't know anyone who works in a factory, skilled or not.

        (I found the figures. In London in 2005, out of 4.5M working people, only 200k were employed in ma

    • You can still pursue your dream job while you earn a living, and you can do your laughing at the other people on payday.

      That's just it though -- you can't realistically do this very well. You can't exactly tell your factory foreman, "sorry, can't work this afternoon, I have a job interview." And that is after the fact that one is not likely to have much energy for finding a job after working all day. (Yes, I realize this is the time to suck it up and work a full day and then come home and work on your

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:31PM (#42701711)

    and in the us Factorys are saying there are skills gaps with people and they are pushing advanced manufacturing programs from community colleges []

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is the pay, if the manufacturing job pays $12.50 an hr why bother? If they won't raise pay to get more people there isn't a real shortage.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      back in the day factories had to train people to develop these skills, and it cost them money. factories pushing those costs onto education, which is paid for by the future employee or the government is funny. Of course they'd like colleges to teach exactly what they need - it will save them a lot of money!
  • The submitter was probably a non-native English speaker so his language errors can be excused. What the hell is with the slashdot editing? Come on guys... it takes one minute to correct the mistakes in that summary.
  • Jobs are not just an excuse to hand people wages. You hire workers for the product they create. So there must be enough demand for whatever educated people do if they are to make a living. And the more they are the smaller the part each one gets of the pie.

    So people just blindly assuming that being educated in a university will automatically make them richer needs to stop. It might be true, but it's not automatic! The more people enroll in university the less true it becomes.

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:35PM (#42701751)

    As a holder of a graduate degree who can currently only get work as unskilled labor, I can see both sides of this. I work on the ramp at the airport, and while the job isn't really all that bad, intellectually it is unstimulating and rather boring; obviously I am also greatly overqualified for it. The thing is, turns out there are a lot of people there with college degrees, including in things like law or engineering. And, once you get a few years in, you can actually make decent money: one guy I know who has been there 7-8 years makes about 70k a year with overtime. You actually end up working with some pretty good people, and there is opportunity to move up, especially if you have an advanced degree and the ability/desire to advance. In any case, its a whole lot better than sitting at home drawing unemployment. Not everyone is going to get to work their dream job, and eventually you have to make a decision on whats more important: waiting around for year for a tiny shot at getting a job in the field you studied for, or taking a job with pretty decent pay that will let you pay off your education debt and provide for yourself/your family.

    In this specific case, it seems like a no-brainer. If you are in fact skilled and intelligent, take that factory job. In a few years you'll probably end up a foreman, supervisor, or manager. Again, as someone in a similar situation, it comes down to this: job>no job.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by acidfast7 ( 551610 )

      But, when your working life is over, what have you really accomplished besides earning a wage? Why attend university at all?

      I see this with my father. He just retired after 31 years of hard manual labor where he could earn 90k/year with overtime. It's great that he had that option and he took advantage of it as much as possible. Now at 63, he doesn't have any hobbies and shuns intellectual stimulation because his brain has been dulled beyond repair.

      Thanks, but, no thanks! Hold out for the desired position a

      • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @03:18PM (#42702217)

        Now at 63, he doesn't have any hobbies and shuns intellectual stimulation because his brain has been dulled beyond repair.

        That was his choice, not a product of the job. If you truly want to develop a hobby or have intellectual stimulation, you find a way to do so. If he was working so much OT that he was making 90k a year, work a little less over time, make 80k or 75k a year, and have time to travel, or build a car in your garage, or whatever hobby you want. Just like with any other job you find, you have to have to find that balance between making enough money to support your desired quality of life and the time to enjoy that life. At work I can talk about things like sports, or guns (surprising number of people their are pro firearm ownership) with my coworkers. If I want more stimulating conversation, I go hang out with my grad school friends who are getting their Master's/PhDs, and we can talk about politics, or science, or, again, even sports. Or I can stay at home and read books that are generally relegated to being used as textbooks but I read for fun because I enjoy the subject material. We only stop learning and thinking when we want to.

        • That will change over time as the friends with Masters/PhDs start pursuing intellectual pursuits full-time for their career. Perhaps it still works now, but give it 10-15 years, and you'll see a huge difference in behavior, especially in regard to child rearing. Sadly, that's just the way it is :(
          • Especially, when one gets locked into a financial lifestyle that necessitates mandatory overtime. There are only so many hours/day.
      • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @03:24PM (#42702271) Journal

        How about not living at home with your parents and being a loser no woman would want to be a mile away from? Isn't that worth getting up and going to work for?

        Disclaimer, I did something stupid when the great recession hit. I graduated in 2009 and worked a few jobs before that. When times got hard I took any job I could get and my wife left me for a man with a steadier future who was not all pissed off about it.

        I had to move back home with my parents. Insulting as i am in my 30s. I turned down jobs that paid 10/hr because I am worth more. I am educated and made more in the past right? Guess what.

        Over a year has gone bye and the only look I had were 2 temp jobs in my field. Well, I lost my car, lost my posessions, and now employers feel I am lazy and not even worth $10/hr. My past references are gone and working for other people, and now I have a whole on my resume so big you can drive a truck through it!

        If I could start over I would be happy to make $12/hr an hour with the other CS grads in my area working for IBM at their call center and not telling the headhunter to fuck himself when he offered $24,000 a year. I told him "Are you crazy! I owe $40,000 in student loans .."Now I am aiming for $16,000 a year. $7.25/hr with 40 hours a week lands you $16,500 a year. Can you believe that?

        I will probably never retire of find another woman again as I thought I was too good to take any job. So I know I am going to be bashed and insulted here saying "I brought this on my self or I am an idiot". But my lesson for any reader is if you are offered a position take it! Do it, and after a year quit or be promoted. Not everyone gets to make $40k a year out of school. It is 2013. THere are hundreds of H1B1 visa works happy to do it for less with +8 years experience!

        Go whine at the situation all you want but at the end of the day you are responsible for your upkeeping or your families. I hope I can make $38,000 again some day but right now I really need to earn it. You need that experience and a very good trackrecord for that salary.

        Outside of Silcon Valley I know of no one making $80k a year (read your other post). Wages are and have been going down for many years. It is a fact of life and I applaud the grandparent as I am sure he made the right move and will get rewarded quicker than from what I did.

        • Relocate. In Germany you'd easily be making a solid wage and on your way to a "Blue Card."
          • I only have 2 references and have no money. I will accept a lower wage position and be happy I have a job or change fields. If I study I can become a teacher. I do not speak German anyway.

            Thanks for the advice.

            My point is sometimes we live in an employers market. Sometimes we live in an employees market. The employer has the strings and the 1950s - 1990s were an extrodinary time frame. Those opportunites are not there anymore or are there but to a lesser extent. I think working entry level and sucking it up

    • In any case, its a whole lot better than sitting at home drawing unemployment.

      Yes. Being productive feels good.

  • that have virtually no chance of moving on to a four-year university and They also suffer from a stigma. Is a big issue and we have that in us right now.

    WE NEED TO BACK OFF this idea of needing 4 year universitys.

  • Americans aren't willing to go back to 19th century factory life, which is essentially what they have in China now. It's not enough to raise the pay a little, the working conditions will have to be improved if they want a workforce that isn't completely desperate to take those jobs.
  • It's about status (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bbartlog ( 1853116 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:41PM (#42701817)
    For young people (those still looking for a mate, in particular), taking a factory job would be a big blow to their status, regardless of the level of pay. Better an unemployed white collar professional than an employed manufacturing worker, welder, or truck driver. It's similar in the US. Financially the median person is better off becoming a truck driver at 19 than pursuing a law degree (and racking up the associated debt), but being a trucker is really socially limiting. Likewise manufacturing in China, I expect.
  • apprenticeships and trades schools get no respect now days and that was lead us down the route of college for all with lot's worthless degrees and other degrees that trun out people with big skills gaps. Look at tech / IT to much CS degrees (that is not sever / networking / desktop) and lots of tech / trades schools out that get passed over.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @02:53PM (#42701965)

    More places need the German system two tier system or at least some like where apprenticeships and trades schools are not kicked to the side.

  • It's a pity so many of these bright people remain underemployed, with such a low bar to entry in advanced economies.

  • This is the classic over education problem. Just because they are a collage graduate doesn't mean they are worth hiring for anything. They may not even be qualified to do ditch digging or accounting. However, they are probably eminently qualified to become politicians.

  • TED: Mike Rowe (Score:5, Informative)

    by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @03:55PM (#42702529) Homepage

    Mike Rowe covered this exact phenomenon here in America. Truth is, it's globally universal. Please listen to his speech with regard to work ethic on TED below. []

  • by Kwyj1b0 ( 2757125 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @04:17PM (#42702713)

    While this phenomenon is to be expected, it happened much faster than I expected. And I consider it a good thing. We need people to move people out of low-level manufacturing.

    The problem with manual labor is that sooner or later, automation will cause a majority of the workforce to become unemployed. Irrespective of wage cuts, cramped spaces, etc. A machine can almost always do it better than a human can (and for cheaper given a large enough scale). If there is a fixed algorithm/procedure to follow with very little dynamic decision making, you don't need humans to do it.

    We should be educating people more and more and give them the skills that won't be automated in 5-10 years. Otherwise, you are just pushing the problem a few years down the line - "iPhone manufacturing is now automated? Fine, I'll join an iTeleport manufacturing plant". Which is why when I hate it when a politician talk about how they are going to "bring back manufacturing from China" - they aren't addressing the problem. Those low-skill manufacturing jobs aren't coming back. Either they will be automated, or you are competing against an extremely cheap labor force and will never win out.

  • Desperation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @05:08PM (#42703129)

    Any factory that is really "desperate for workers" would improve their pay, benefits, and working conditions until they were no longer desperate for workers. (Note that opportunities for advancement are factored in--if your job has fewer opportunities for advancement than other jobs, you need to improve the other factors enough to compensate.) If the industry is not dead (and this one clearly isn't), they will get enough workers before they make themselves unprofitable.

    In the H1B context in America, "desperate for workers" means "desperate with workers who will work for what little we have to offer". Interesting to see that it works the same way in a different industry, different country, and different circumstances as well.

  • by Osgeld ( 1900440 ) on Saturday January 26, 2013 @07:16PM (#42703965)

    In the USA though so it may be totally different in other places... I recently heard some girl call into a radio show with "I have a college degree, I am not going to work at a factory", which I took offense to, "why not" I shouted out.

    factory's can be very interesting places, you dont just take a army of drones, stick them in a building and say make me shit. No, there's mechanics, machinist, IT and communications staff, computer programmers, designers, engineers, sales staff, accounting, HR, wearhousing, logistics and more, often in the same facilities.

    Its a rare hornets nest of activity and creativity that takes an idea produced out of thin air into a product you can make and sell thousands of in a day, and it takes a huge skill set over teams of people to make all those cogs line up perfectly.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford