University graduates ditch their certificates for vocational training

By Phuong Hoa, Hong Van, Lam Le   April 21, 2016 | 07:39 pm PT
“Working as ‘xe om’, motorbike taxi, each month I earn over VND5 million ($224), if I’m frugal, I have enough to pay for rent, meals and study,” said Nguyen Dinh Duc, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics.

The 24-year-old young man has been working as ‘xe om’ for six months after multiple failed attempts to find a suitable job. In the evenings, he studies Japanese at a vocational school hoping to later teach the language.

Duc did land a job over a year ago at a logistics company which paid him VND4 million per month. He was put on a three-month probation but after nearly a year at the company, he still hadn’t signed a contract. Not long after, his boss said the company was having difficulties and dismissed him altogether.

Duc is not alone. According to the General Statistics Office, there were 530 thousand people aged 15 to 24 unemployed in Q1/2016. As of end of March 2016, 192,500 university graduates or higher were unemployed, accounting for one fifth of nationwide unemployment. Many of them had to put aside their certificates to take up a vocational course in hope of finding a job.


Hundreds of people line up to apply to the Hanoi Tax Department in 2014. Photo: Phuong Son

The struggle to find the right job

Four friends, Nguyen Thi Hue, Nong Thanh Ngoc, Trieu Thi Linh Chi and Giap Huyen Trang from the northern province of Lang Son have struggled for two years to land a job with no results after graduating from Thai Nguyen University of Education.

The four childhood friends then resorted to work as factory workers before deciding to study to become a kindergarten teacher at Lang Son College of Education.

“Perhaps after studying to be a kindergarten teacher, we’ll be able to find work. If we fail to get into public schools, there’re private ones too. The pay may not be high but at least it’s more stable than that of a factory worker. On one hand we have to accept to lose one more year to study but then we have a whole life ahead of us,” said Ngoc, 24, with a sad smile.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in education, Ngoc helped her family with farming before following friends to Bac Ninh, a province north of Hanoi, to work in a factory.

Back in the day, Ngoc recalled, she was so excited upon hearing the news she had gotten into university. But as graduation approached, she became increasingly worried about her future job.

Hue, Ngoc’s course mate, was without a job for two years. After failed attempts to become a tenured state school teacher, she also made a turnaround to become a factory worker.

“When I got into university, all I knew was studying. I had no idea it would be so hard to find a job. Vacancies are scarce and there are too many graduates. I’m so worried about the future, sighed Hue.

A brief estimate shows Hue’s parents had to pour in VND100 million to afford her university education. Now she works late hours as a waitress or sells flowers to afford her the fees at Lang Son College of Education.

The struggle to stay in the job

Even graduates with jobs find it difficult to stay. Many take up evening classes hoping to land a better job in a different sector.

Luong Thu Hoai, 28, has a good Business Administration degree from Vietnam University of Commerce and did a master's degree to become a college lecturer in Hanoi. After a couple of years working as a lecturer, she quit to pursue a vocational degree in a pharmaceutical school as her college couldn’t attract enough students. Also, a teaching salary from VND5 million to VND7 million is not enough for a comfortable life in the capital.

Hoai hopes to open a beauty shop once she graduates. She believes her plan is viable because her mother works in a hospital and so has good connections as well as because “this sector in Vietnam has been on the rise in recent years.”

Supply and demand mismatch

Le Hong Khanh, Vice Principal of Hanoi School of Medicine and Pharmacy, said the school has around 1,000 students, half of them are pursuing a second degree. The average student age is 25, and many enrolled after failing to find a job with their first degree.

One of the reasons for this phenomenon according to Khanh is the wave of young people going into economics, finance, banking and education, causing an oversupply. He expects that in the coming years, the trend to study at vocational schools will increase further if nothing is done to reform university education.

“Thousands of unemployed graduates and postgraduates is an alarming situation. Those for whom university education is not suitable should study at vocational schools or choose a different path. An undergraduate degree is no longer an effective job guarantee as before, said Khanh.

In the meantime, people like Duc, Ngoc, Hue and Hoai continue with their vocational studies in an effort to land a suitable job. 

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