A new trend is emerging in China's job market: young, ambitious Chinese are picking up new skills outside their professional or academic training to boost job prospects. While the country's economic reform policy has opened up a world of opportunities for job-seekers, it has also turned job-hunting into a highly competitive business. Gone are the days - well, at least in Shanghai - when graduates could rely on the state to assign them jobs. Even if the government was to continue the tradition, there probably would be few takers among the young and ambitious. Young job-seekers - those who grew up with Deng Xiaoping's reform policy launched in 1979 - are not ingrained with the concept of lifelong employment in state enterprises or government departments, as their parents were. To them, a job in a state enterprise not only means low pay, but also poor job prospects. Many state employees, it is often said, spend more time reading newspapers than actually working - a form of disguised unemployment. More significantly, the provision of housing - often the key attraction of state employment - is gradually being taken away to remove the cradle-to-grave welfare baggage bogging down state enterprises. State employment also is no longer equated with the 'iron rice bowl'. Industrial restructuring and competition from foreign companies have forced many inefficient enterprises to shed excess workers to survive. The Shanghai Star - a bi-weekly, English-language newspaper - recently quoted experts as saying the advent of the market economy and restructuring would cost about one million jobs in Shanghai from now to 2000. Given the grim prospects, there is little incentive for young people to opt for a career with the state sector. The alternatives are working in Sino-foreign joint ventures and wholly owned foreign ventures, or self-employment. The first of the two options is obviously the more popular, but the more demanding. It is not enough to have a degree. Graduates need to have a degree in one of the hot specialisations, such as economics, business, computers, industrial design or electrical engineering. That is still not enough. They also must be able to speak English, Japanese or German - the three most popular foreign languages, which reflect the geographical trend of foreign investments. Some still consider this inadequate. Many not trained in computers have enrolled themselves in night classes or weekend courses to pick up skills in this field. So competitive is job-hunting that the Financial News recently reported that instead of spending time at discotheques and karaoke bars, many ambitious youths were using their free time to improve themselves. Young Chinese, it seems, are becoming lean and hungry again.