University graduates face toughest job market since 2003 as coronavirus hits Hong Kong economy
Fresh graduates are on pins and needles scrambling for jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic and an economic downturn, but human resources specialist warns of a gloomy job market possibly worse than 2003 when SARS hit the local economy.
Battered by months of social unrest and the prolonged US-China trade war, Hong Kong had slipped into recession in 2019 with its annual GDP contracted by 1.2 per cent.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak is worsening the labour market for job-seeking university graduates, as the pandemic has caused disruptions to a wide range of economic activities and dampened economic sentiment. Many companies have asked their staff to work from home or take unpaid leave over a few months.
The number of entry positions for graduates on jobs portals, JobsDB and JIJIS, have dropped 50% compared to the same period of last year. As of April 15, there are about 600 positions on JobsDB and 700 on JIJIS.
Marco Chan, 22, a business studies student at Polytechnic University, received only one interview offer out of more than twenty job applications.
“I feel helpless and frustrated, graduating in such a difficult time,” said Chan, who has been seeking jobs since the end of March. “The competition is particularly keen when I’m just an ordinary business graduate, but not from any professional disciplines.”
Mr Chan, who majors in Global Supply Chain Management, also expressed worries towards lower pay of jobs.
“Even if I could land a job, it is no surprise that the company will force down the salary to cut costs,” he said. “I might start to consider applying for government jobs instead.”
Poised to enter a tight job market, Mr Chan is not alone in attempting to change career plans. Alaia Lam, 21, a social work student in her final year at the University of Hong Kong, has decided to further her study as she struggles to secure a permanent job offer.
“I initially had no plans to pursue a Master’s degree, but it seems to be the best choice in view of the uninviting situation in the labour market,” said Lam, who had expected to land a job at NGOs that paid between HK$16,000 and HK$19,000 at the beginning.
Steve Man, an HR expert with more than 25 years of experience in the industry, said coronavirus pandemic is not the only reason attributing the bleak job market.
“The suspension of classes may affect employers’ confidence towards the fresh graduates... and fewer numbers of staff who would resign by themselves, so the need for replacement becomes less,” said Man. He is also a founder of Buddy Town, a human resource advisory social enterprise offering executive coaching for public and private corporations.
The recently announced jobless rate in the city marked the highest in more than nine years. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 3.7 per cent in the December to February 2020 period, from 3.4 per cent in the prior period. The jobless rate has been on the rise since the beginning of 2019, government data showed.
The year-on-year decline in total employment widened to 2.5%, the largest since the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
"The labour market will be subject to even greater pressure in the near term, and the exact impact will hinge on the duration and severity of the pandemic around the world,” Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said in a statement.
Mr Man warns that the unemployment rate has not yet fully reflected the impact of the virus, while the situation in the labour market could be more difficult than in 2003 under SARS, as the coronavirus shows no sign of easing and the global economy worsens.
“The unemployment situation resulting from SARS lasted for only about a year. It is expected to last much longer this time as the recession is also expected to come,” he said. “Since the virus is affecting most of the countries in the world, it not only reduces graduates’ employability in Hong Kong, but also their overseas job opportunities.”
A number of multinational corporations, including HSBC and Standard Chartered, have announced that they would freeze hiring or hire fewer graduates regarding the spread of COVID-19 and a gloomy economic outlook.
Mr Man said typical management trainee and graduate trainee positions would be reduced as most MNCs will stop hiring before they see the rebound before the year ends.
He suggested university leavers be more open-minded, acquire new skills, and be brave enough to embrace different career opportunities, whether local or overseas, paid or unpaid.
“Students should not be too rigid to their fields of study but be open to every paid to unpaid opportunity. In competing for the fresh graduate positions, the differentiation will be on real work experience and the skills they have,” he advised.
Reported by Olivia Tam
Edited by Felix Tam, Lucas Lo
《The Young Financial Post 新報人財經》