How China’s smaller cities are going all out in the race to win young talent
Cities competing with the lure of the big metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai to recruit a young and educated workforce
While hundreds of thousands of Chinese college graduates are flocking to big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen to start their careers as the academic year draws to a close, some second tier cities are doing all they can to attract some of this young talent.
Changsha, the capital of southern Hunan province, is offering 30,000 yuan (US$4,400) to 60,000-yuan subsidies to graduates with a master’s or a doctoral degree who want to buy their first home in the city. It is also offering rent and living allowances to graduates for the first two years they settle in Changsha.
A total of 7.95 million students have graduated from the country’s universities and colleges this summer, a 300,000 increase from 2016. They accounted for more than half of the country’s new labour force this year.
A survey of more than 21,000 fresh graduates conducted by part of the human resources company RenruiHR.com suggested only 17 per cent planned to return to their home cities, with the majority choosing to stay in the city where they studied or move to a new city.
About 44 per cent chose to live in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, while a similar proportion of 45 per cent opted for second-tier cities such as well-developed provincial capitals or coastal cities. Only one in 10 were willing to go to third or fourth tier cities, according to the survey published in June.
Chengdu, the capital of southwestern Sichuan province, was the most popular second-tier city for fresh graduates, followed by Nanjing, Tianjin, Chongqing, Hangzhou and Wuhan.
While cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are tightening their household registration, or hukou, system to curb the influx of migrants, many second tier cities are competing fiercely against each other to attract more young graduates by providing incentives on hukou and home purchases.
Chengdu is revamping its talent policy to allow all full-time university graduates to apply for the city’s hukou even before they find a job there.
Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei in central China, is allowing all former students who graduated within three years and working in the city to apply for its hukou. The city pledged in February to have a million graduates living in the city in five years who had studied at its universities and colleges.
Even Shenzhen, the country’s southern technological hub across the border from Hong Kong, is providing one-off subsidies of 15,000 to 30,000 yuan to graduates who have a Shenzhen hukou. It was the third most popular city among graduates according to the survey.
But for many young graduates on the starting line of their careers, it is not the preferential policies or allowances that matters, but the quantity and quality of job opportunities as well as the lifestyle a city has to offer.
Wu Shangqing, 24, is now working for a bank in Shenzhen after graduating in Guangzhou in 2016. She got a 15,000-yuan allowance after her application to household registration in Shenzhen was given a green light.
“The rent costs a lot in Shenzhen and the allowance helped me save some, but it was not why I came here,” she said. “The reason why I came is that I like the fast-paced lifestyle here…and that financial industry in Shenzhen is vibrant,” said Wu, who studied Finance in university.
She said going back to her hometown in Guizhou, China’s poorest province, to work would never be an option as there are much more chances in Shenzhen for her career.
Fan Haoran, 23, is now working for an IT company in Shenzhen after studying in Sichuan for four years. He tried looking for a job in Chengdu last year but there were not as many opportunities there as in Shenzhen.
“Even Chengdu is also a very good city to live but there are still more jobs in Shenzhen, and there are so many IT companies there. So I came here to start my career,” he said.
The fierce competition for talent among cities and provinces has drawn the attention of the national government. The vice-minister for education, Du Zhanyuan, called during a forum last month for the “rational and orderly” flow of talent and guarding against “cutthroat competition” to lure graduates.
He also warned against “scrambling for and digging for talent” at universities and colleges in the country’s less developed central, western and northeastern regions.