Workplace reality bites for graduates
  • | VET | August 15, 2018 10:37 AM

With a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Ms. Le Thuy easily found employment upon graduating a few years ago. There were many accounting jobs available, and it was simply a case of applying then accepting the best offer. A few years later, with the same degree, her younger brother, Mr. Le Duy, had a completely different experience. Despite sending his resume to a number of companies, he remained unemployed for many months. Accounting and other jobs are no longer in such high demand, and many new graduates have shared Mr. Duy’s experience.

Illustrative photo

Opportunity a challenge

There were about 1.1 million unemployed people in Vietnam in the second quarter, including some 200,000 graduates, according to the General Statistics Office. Graduates in accounting, finance, banking, business, and construction, who were much sought-after just a few years ago, now face limited employment offers and perhaps some time without work.

Having seen his sister graduate in accounting and quickly find a job, Mr. Duy decided he would also study accounting. “Many people older than I told me that every company needs accountants,” he said. “I was told many times how easy it would be to find a job after graduation.”

Following “trends” when selecting majors is common in Vietnam. Every year, when the exam season for universities and colleges arrives, parents and students who have just graduated from high school choose faculties that are believed to have a lot job opportunities and high salaries.

Mr. Duy’s parents and sister dissuaded him from pursing his dream of becoming a singer. “They told me that doing any type of art as a career would be difficult,” he said. “A ‘normal’ job would ensure I had a livelihood. So I listened to them, but it turned out not to be true.”

One reason parents and students choose “trendy” sectors is because they have access to little other information.

A few years ago, when Ms. Mai Anh, a 22-year-old student at the Foreign Trade University, was just about to finish high school she found it hard to obtain information from universities on their curricula, majors, and possible future employment. Most high schools only give general advice rather than any specific guidance on each student’s ability and the appropriate university and future occupation. As a good student, her parents and she decided on the country’s top university, in the hope a good job would come later.

After studying for two years, however, she is no longer interested in foreign trade and only continues because it’s already cost time and money. “I may try to work in the field after graduating this year,” she said. “Maybe I’ll change my mind about it after I’ve had first-hand experience. If I still don’t like it, I’ll take some short courses and try something else. Right now, I still don’t know what I want to do, to be honest. But at least I’ll have a good degree from a good university and no real concern about employment.”

Most people, especially those from poor families, still perceive earning a degree as meaning there will be a host of job opportunities after graduating, according to Ms. Thuy Linh, a lecturer at Hanoi University. Years ago this was indeed the case, with a good job and high salary coming after university studies. Nowadays there are simply too many people with the same degree and the jobs just aren’t there.

According to a report from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) released last year, accounting and auditing were fields that had the most job seekers, accounting for one-quarter of the total, followed by finance and banking, business management, and human resources management, with more than 10 per cent each. Though recruitment demand for accounting remains high, due to an oversupply of new graduates it’s estimated that each applicant must compete with 60 others to get the job, according to a report from Vietnamworks, one of Vietnam’s leading recruitment sites.

Skills after graduation

Another major challenge for new graduates when job seeking is that employers seek experienced candidates.

Having a degree in English translation and interpretation, 24-year-old Doan Hien could not find a job in her major after graduation because she had no experience. She quickly recognized that experience was the most important factor in finding work. “It’s hard for us new graduates,” she said. “How can we gain experience when we’ve only just finished our studies? What we studied is too academic and impractical in an actual job.” Many new graduates either face unemployment or a struggle to find a good job, due to the gap between what they learned and the workplace reality.

Though improving, links between universities and enterprises remain weak and lead to fields of education not matching market demand, according to Ms. Linh. Some enterprises have programs inviting students to visit their office, but not many have paid adequate attention to cooperating with universities and spelling out their employment requirements.

Ms. Hien patiently waited for interviews that never came and fell into depression. More fortunate, Mr. Duy eventually got a job at a small company after being unemployed for a few months. In addition to accounting, however, he also had to fill in on reception and finish other paperwork as required and was also responsible for making tea and taking photocopies. His salary wasn’t great, either.

Meanwhile, Mr. Van Ngoc, a 25-year-old architecture graduate, was offered a number of jobs but they were in projects where cost was important but quality wasn’t, which isn’t the type of career he wanted to pursue.

All then decided to move away from their majors.

Mr. Duy opened an online shop for fashion clothing and accessories, which not only earns him a good income but makes him happy. Ms. Hien, meanwhile, works in human resources and Mr. Ngoc is in graphic design, which has something in common with architecture. Both had to take short courses and took on low-paid part-time work before getting their current jobs. “I luckily got a job through a classmate who had opened a business,” Mr. Ngoc said. “I’m still learning on the job.” Some 60 per cent of graduates work in a field that differs from their major, according to MoLISA.

At a recent meeting of the National Assembly, Vice President Vu Duc Dam revealed that Vietnam’s education sector has targeted having at least one local university among the world’s Top 1,000 by 2020. To achieve this goal, the Ministry of Education and Training is working on two drafts amending education in general and university education in particular. They are expected to cut the amount of theoretical knowledge studied and encourage more creativity in both teaching and learning, with the application of successful models from international schools in Australia and Germany and the promotion of programs connecting enterprises and universities so the workforce society needs is actually produced.

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