Yesterday I shared the answers my former students gave to a short survey I sent them. Today we’re going to look more closely at the data, and try to get a better understanding of the lives these recent graduates are facing.
As I am currently living in Nanjing, where salaries have been moving steadily upward for my friends graduating from one of China’s best universities, it was very interesting to see that the top salary among these 9 from Guangxi was only 2,500 RMB. The average was just 1,842 RMB, which is slightly below the national average for urban residents (1,998 RMB/month). Only 3 of the 9 students reported salaries above that average, two of those earned 2,000RMB/month.
The second surprise for me was how little they worked. I think we often get the idea that Chinese workers are not only overworked, but also underpaid. While none of these students made as much as a Foxconn assembly line worker, only one of them worked nearly as many hours. My friends in Nanjing earning higher salaries, worked far longer than these recent graduates. From the 8 students that reported their weekly hours, the average was 37 1/4 hours per week. There was a clear division between public school teachers (27 hours per week) and employees of private companies (43 hours per week).
This brings me to my third finding, low satisfaction and low levels of loyalty. 67% of the respondents reported that they were not satisfied with their work (compared to 33% in the U.S.), with most of them citing low pay as the reason for their dissatisfaction. As a consequence, 78% said they would try to find a new job in the next year. This should serve as a reminder to foreign companies operating in China, that even though people are willing to work for a low salary, a few thousand yuan per month does not buy employee loyalty. As Hillary stated clearly yesterday, if the company offers opportunities for promotions, she’d stay; otherwise she would take the skills she gained working there to their competitors.
It seems while teaching may be a very low paying job (1633RMB/month vs. 2166RMB/month), the hours worked per week make it one of the more relaxed options. Teaching also offered a better hourly wage (16.5RMB/hour vs. 12.9RMB/hour) than anyone earned in a private company. Unfortunately, none of the rural teachers reported being satisfied with their jobs, and all of them planned to find a new job within the next year. This shows that hourly wage doesn’t matter nearly as much as the possible monthly wage, and this is consistent with what I have heard from virtually every other Chinese friend. I think most of the teachers would be more satisfied working longer hours if it meant higher monthly wages (perhaps providing tutoring to struggling students?), and it might make staying in the rural schools that need them more attractive.
The final take-away from this short survey, is that in spite of low salaries and even lower rates of satisfaction, recent Chinese graduates are overwhelmingly hopeful about their future. Even David, whose quote to all of you was that, “Life Sucks,” reported that he was hopeful about his future. The only respondent who was not hopeful, had one of the lowest hourly wages earning just over 10RMB/hour ($1.65) as a primary school teacher. This is consistent with what I am seeing with my friends in Nanjing, even though many of them are not satisfied with their current jobs, they have been able to hop from company to company in search of something better.