For many recent graduates the reward for years of study at university is unemployment.
With a university degree in banking, Mr Huy Hung was confident of finding a good job at a major bank. Despite applying at dozens of banks, however, success is yet to come. After more than six months of unemployment he feels fortunate to have found a job as a security guard at an office block.
Post-graduates working in fields outside of their studies are rising in number throughout Vietnam. Although people like Mr Hung have only managed to find low paying jobs they are still lucky compared to the thousands of others who haven’t found any job after graduation.
The unemployment rate is increasing in the country, especially among graduates. More than 162,000 university graduates or post-graduates were jobless in the second quarter of 2014, accounting for one-fifth of the total, according to a recent report from the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs and the International Labour Organisation. Many of those that are employed are in jobs not related to their field of study.
Mr Hung said he is earning about a quarter of what he expected after graduation, but acknowledges that it at least allows him to survive. “It’s better than starving while waiting to find work in my area of expertise,” he said.
Like Mr Hung, Ms Ngoc Phuong agreed to take on a low-paying job at a garment and textile factory after a long time of unemployment. She even had to lie about her accountancy qualifications when applying for the job, as she’d been told by friends working at the factory that the company would not employ her if they knew she held a degree. “They don’t want graduates because they are afraid they will only work there for a brief time and leave as soon as they find a better job,” she said.
Amid the global economic recession, even jobs that were “hot” several years ago, such as those in business, finance, banking, construction, telecommunications, and IT, are now hard to find. Many organisations have cut their workforce, while the number of people specialising in these fields, who began their studies when these jobs were common, has increased. Many such graduates now struggle to find jobs in their profession, according to Dr Ho Van Hoanh, Deputy Chairman of the Vietnam Scientific Association for the Development of Talent and Human Resources.
Other factors are also at play, for which both educators and students are responsible, according to educational specialists and psychologists.
The rapid development of private universities and colleges in recent years is partially to blame, including many with low entrance requirements. The number of graduates has increased but they fail to meet the standards set for a university education, according to Mr Hoanh, and are unable to apply what they learned.
Agreeing with Mr Hoanh, Ms Quynh Nga, a tourism graduate, said that she was able to apply very little of what she learned at university time in her job as a tour operator. “It was too theoretical and complex, usually academic concepts, terms and diagrams,” she said. “I found there was no relation between these and setting up attractive tour packages or negotiating with customers and business partners,” adding that she couldn’t understand why she was required to study such subjects. “I believe that, like me, most other students forgot them as soon as the exam was finished. They studied them to complete their degree, not for any practical application.”
Another weakness of educators is the lack of useful information and career guidance given to high school students before they choose their tertiary education. Most high schools only provide general advice rather than specific guidance, and information from universities is usually quite vague. Mr Chi Hieu, a Year 12 high school student, said that with inadequate information coming from universities and colleges it is difficult for him and his friends to determine what jobs may be available after graduation.
Many high school students are also suffer from significant pressure to enter university or college by whatever means possible. For thousands of years in Vietnam there has been a strong belief that a university degree opens the door to good jobs and high salaries, according to psychology Dr Pham Manh Ha, a lecturer at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities. Given this belief, many students not qualified for a good university try to enter a university with lower standards. Keen to be accepted by any university, they forego the field of their true ability and desires, Dr Ha said. Many fail to recognise Vietnam has an oversupply of certain professions. “It would be better if they would select a vocational school that trains them in available jobs, rather pursuing a university degree at a higher cost and longer time, and then facing unemployment,” she said.
Tertiary education also fails to teach soft skills and students seem unwilling to enrich their knowledge beyond what they are taught, according to Mr Vu Tuan Anh, Director of the Vietnam Institute of Management, which provides training in soft skills and high-level management. Of a similar mind, Mr Quang Dung, director of a law firm, said that many graduates who apply to work at the firm simply don’t satisfy the job requirements. “We don’t need them to recite concepts or terms they studied at school,” he said. “What we need is for them to have knowledge and skills and to apply them in practice.”
Mr Anh advised students to take on some responsibility when it comes to their education. They should understand what their abilities are and the sort of professions where there is demand when making a decision about university. After entering university, they must invest time and effort in becoming professional and gains skills such as English and basic IT knowledge, which all recruiters look for. Soft skills such as communications, problem solving and time management are also important. “No university can teach you everything you need to find a good job,” he said. “You are provided with basic knowledge only, and it’s not enough. You must train yourself as well. Getting a part-time job while at university is also a good way to learn and prepare for the full-time work in the future.”
The Ministry of Education and Training has recently reported that reforms will be soon implemented to ensure that training follows workforce demand. There will be a quality standard for new universities and colleges and a reformed curriculum that guarantees students are equipped with appropriate practical knowledge. There will be a closer connection between educators and enterprises, to provide students with career guidance and opportunities for internships.
While the next generation of graduates wait for such changes, recent graduates struggle to avoid the unemployment queue, taking any job on offer and allowing the skills and knowledge gained at university to wither on the vine.