For One Chinese Student, a Tough Job Hunt; Grateful son and “Iron Chicken” Gao Yueqing is set to graduate this June with a degree in accounting, the most practical major he and his father could agree upon. But the younger Mr. Gao, like many Chinese college students, is finding it hard to nail a job

March 25, 2013, 10:33 p.m. ET

For One Chinese Student, a Tough Job Hunt

By BOB DAVIS

SHIJIAONAO, China—Four years ago, Gao Shangming was convinced that his son Yueqing needed to remain in the family’s one-room apartment and help harvest corn rather than go to college. “Our financial situation wasn’t good,” the 50-year-old peasant farmer says.

But Gao Yueqing was determined to escape the dusty north China mountain village of 200 households where nearly all young people either become farmers or migrate to nearby cities to work in restaurants. His father’s relatives talked up young Gao’s case, as did a respected high-school teacher who told the elder Gao how hardworking his son was.

The clincher: “He told me, ‘If I let him get a college degree, he’d make more money,'” the elder Gao recalls.

So the father put in extra hours in nearby coal mines to pay his son’s 10,000 yuan ($1,600) annual tuition and expenses at Shanxi University’s business school in Taiyuan, in the heart of China’s coal country. His grateful son was so frugal that his roommates nicknamed him “Iron Chicken,” because it was as hard to separate him from a yuan as it would be to pluck a feather from an iron fowl.

Gao Yueqing is set to graduate this June with a degree in accounting, the most practical major he and his father could agree upon. But the younger Mr. Gao, like many Chinese college students, is finding it hard to nail a job, especially one that pays decently.

During a job fair at the school’s aging gymnasium this past fall, Mr. Gao squeezed through the crowds to check out an accounting job at a sportswear retailer. Can’t the retailer offer more than $50 a week to start, he asked? “You’re lucky if anyone recruits you,” the sportswear representative answered. “Don’t bargain too much. We have more applicants to choose from.”

Four hours of talking to potential employers yielded Mr. Gao five interviews, just two of them in his major. None led to a job offer.

The following months didn’t bring much better news.

Few top-tier employers recruit in Taiyuan. After applying to dozens of companies, he snagged one interview at a supermarket chain, but found the company was looking for cashiers, not accountants. A computer company expressed interest, but he says he couldn’t pass their computer-programming test. A third company dangled a job before him, but he balked when told he would have to pay for months of computer training upfront. He worried that the job would disappear after the course work, a common Chinese job scam.

The closest he came to a job was at a food-processing company. He passed two interviews, but says he was told that he would have to start on the slaughterhouse floor killing chickens before he progressed to an accountant’s chair. “Too weird,” says Mr. Gao, who turned down the job.

Late last year, Mr. Gao landed an internship at a local tax-auditing firm, which could turn into a full-time job in July when the firm decides whom to hire. It would mean working for a couple of years at a monthly salary of about $250 to $400, not much in a city where sharing a tiny apartment can cost $110. He would have hardly any money left over to help his parents.

He says he would put up with low pay to get an accounting slot where he could eventually move up.

His boss, an auditing veteran, isn’t making promises of full-time work. “Gao is quite promising, but his skills aren’t developed yet,” she says. Plus, she has a half-dozen other accounting interns to choose from.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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