In the past few decades, becoming a civil servant in China has become highly competitive, with thousands of people sometimes competing for the same job. But increasingly, some job openings are not receiving any applicants at all.
The number of vacancies in danger of going unfilled has risen in each of the past three years, with authorities now calling for previously unsuccessful candidates to go through a second application round to fill the leftover posts. Government departments currently have about 4,100 openings without applicants, according to the State Administration of Civil Service, in charge of recruiting and supervising civil servants.
Most of these so-called red-collar jobs are highly sought-after, as they promise job security and benefits, and are seen as a ladder for ascending in the professional hierarchy. As such, China’s civil service examinations, also known as guokao, are highly competitive. Last year, nearly 1.48 million applicants contended for some 20,700 posts — in fact, nearly 10,000 people vied for the receptionist position at the office of the China Democratic League.
Yet some posts didn’t even receive a single application. Currently, the tax bureau offices in 11 provinces have the highest number of unfilled vacancies, with 345 new employees needed in southwestern China’s Sichuan province alone. There are also demands in several central- and local-level units, including the Central Publicity Department and the Ministry of Education, as well as the People’s Bank of China. Almost 93 percent of all vacancies are at the township level and village levels — the lowest tiers of the country’s administrative divisions.
Peng Zhongbao, deputy director of the examination and recruitment division of the State Administration of Civil Service, told Party newspaper Beijing Daily in a 2015 interview that it’s possible some departments don’t receive applicants because of the requirements related to education or relevant work experience. Another possibility, he added, could be the nature or location of the job, as many lower-level positions are based in remote or less-developed areas.
Jiang Si, an employee at the State Administration of Taxation in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, told Sixth Tone that the government’s salary reforms in 2014, which pushed for a “reasonable” salary structure that effectively lowered wages, could be one of the reasons why the public sector has become unattractive to many. Lately, there have also been a number of reports of civil servants shifting to the private sector for better economic opportunities.
Jiang also said tax reforms have added extra burden. “After replacing the business tax with a value-added tax, the workloads have increased a lot,” she said. “Even in a county-level office like ours, we now need eight or nine people.”
But Li Ruichang, a professor of public administration at Fudan University in Shanghai, is not alarmed by the phenomenon. Li said he doesn’t believe the trend is indicative of people’s interest toward a certain job sector. One potential reason, he explained, could be awareness of the variety of jobs available, which would in turn influence application volume.
“Some applicants might not be aware of the competition they face [in applying for a particular post], and consequently miss the opportunity to apply for positions that are more realistic for them,” Li told Sixth Tone. “Besides, there are good years and bad years [for every sector].”
Different parts of China’s public sector face a lack of applicants every year. In previous years, the meteorological bureau, the department of inspection and quarantine, and the railway public security bureau were among the least-desired job sectors.
By the end of the application process in 2015, only 1 percent of the total jobs announced were still vacant, meaning there were 158 positions with no applicants.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: A candidate leaves the examination hall after taking the civil service test in Zhengzhou, Henan province, Nov. 25, 2012. Ma Jian/IC)