“Young, educated, unemployed: Vietnamese graduates struggle to find jobs”

Students attend a job fair in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach
Students attend a job fair in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach (Thanh Nien News)

“How can I have experience just after graduating from university? No firm wants to recruit an employee with little experience like me,” Nguyen Thuy Hang, 22, said while looking for accounting jobs on a jobs site.

The Hanoi National Economics University graduate has sent out CVs to dozens of local and foreign-owned companies, but only three of them have called her for interviews. Unfortunately, she said, she was less experienced than other applicants and did not make much of an impression.

Hang is like many recent university graduates.  As in other countries, they need much more than a university degree to find a suitable job.  They are competing with fellow graduates who took advantage of internship opportunities and found ways – outside of the classroom – to learn and hone various soft skills, improve their English proficiency and, in some cases, to learn valuable IT skills.  The problem is that most universities do not offer services that facilitate these connections and opportunities, e.g., career planning and placement offices, so the responsibility falls squarely on their young shoulders.

Then there is the quality of the education being provided, which at most institutions is heavy on textbook knowledge and theory and short on practical experience and soft skills, including communication skills, teamwork and collaboration, adaptability, problem solving, critical thinking and conflict resolution.  (I can confirm this as both an interested observer and an employer.)  Nguyen Thi Van Anh, managing director of jobs firm Navigos Search, said in the article on which this post is based that the shortage of necessary skills is much more serious in Vietnam than in other ASEAN countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

This sentiment is reflected in a statement by Hoang Ngoc Vinh, director of the Professional Education Department at the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), who noted that the unemployment problem might come from the quality of university education, rather than the surplus of university graduates.  Around 25-30% of the labor force in developed countries are university graduates; in Vietnam, it’s only 7%. “The quality of university graduates may have not met the demands of the labor market,” he said, as cited by Tuoi Tre.

Another issue is the lack of desire on the part of some recent graduates to gain on-the-job experience, to pay their dues, so to speak, in order to be better prepared for the kind of white-collar job they are looking for.  As Phan Truong Son, manager of a chain of restaurants, cafes and shops in Hanoi, put it, his firm announced vacancies for 20 salespeople and waiters, but got only three applications.

Finally, one of the most compelling issues is a structural one. Duong Duc Lan, director of the labor ministry’s vocational training department, said the country possibly has more graduates than it needs. Vietnam has around one million high school graduates every year and only around 3% of them go to vocational schools, while most want a college degree.  Why?  Because of prestige and the belief that a university degree will automatically result in a white-collar job with a higher salary and more respect.  Meanwhile, Vietnam desperately needs more qualified workers.  The problem is twofold:  attracting more students to certain vocational programs and improving the quality of those programs.

To put all of the above in perspective the national unemployment rate in Vietnam is 2.35%, according to the Ministry of Labor, a fifth of which is university graduates.  Thus, the overall issue is underemployment for many rather than unemployment for the country as a whole and a disconnect between student/parent beliefs and aspirations, the educational system and the labor market.



Vietnam’s recent graduates find no value in diplomas

Below is reprint of a 6 May 2014 article about the plight of many postsecondary graduates in Vietnam.  While the unemployment rate is 10% among university graduates, it’s estimated that 50% of all young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who have entered the labor market are unemployed (2012).  Then there’s the specter of underemployment.

Here’s a partial list of some key issues and contributing factors – in no particular order:

  1. economic downturn=business slowdowns, bankruptcies, fewer jobs
  2. mismatch between what many students have studied and the needs of employers
  3. glut of young people studying business administration, banking and finance (banks and other financial institutions laying off employees, hiring fewer new staff)
  4. lack of preparation to enter the world of work successfully
  5. lack of preparation for the application and interview process
  6. low work ethic and level of commitment/dedication (related to #4)
  7. unrealistic expectations about starting salary, in some cases
  8. insufficient real world/practical experience (related to #4)
  9. job hopping (e.g., fixation on salary – related to #10)
  10. short- vs. long-term view of employment and career development/growth

Follow this link to read the original article.  This July 2013 article, entitled Graduate unemployment and ‘over-education’ rising, provides more information about and insights into this disturbing trend.  As the author points out, demand is higher for technicians and less skilled workers in the 100 industrial zones and export processing zones around the country, which employ some 500,000 people.  As in other countries, there are not enough young people enrolling in vocational programs because of the prestige factor and the preference for universities over colleges (vocational institutions) for those who are able to pass the university entrance exam.



Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, a college graduate of business administration, works as a beer promotion girl.  Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre.
Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, a college graduate of business administration, works as a beer promotion girl. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre.

Many college and university graduates in Vietnam have had to put their dreams aside and to earn a living.

Tuoi Tre newspaper recently revealed that many new graduates have struggled to find jobs at vocational centers around Ho Chi Minh City, for lack of available offers.

Huynh Thi Thuy Hang, a beer promotion girl at a restaurant in District 9, graduated with a finance and banking diploma last year.

Hang said she sent her CV to different places but never got a response.

Another promotion girl named Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy also has a business administration diploma that has gotten her nowhere.

Many diploma-holding vendors at a night markets around a complex of national universities on the outskirts of the city have earned it the name “intellectual market.”

Nguyen Nhu Cam, who sells clothes at the market, said she studied urban management at the private Hong Bang International University, but she still can’t find a relevant job.

“I was doing paperwork for a company but the payment was low, so I quit, and started to sell clothes here.

“I don’t know when I will be able to find a job in my field of study. It’s so difficult to find one these days.”

Figures released last December by the General Statistics Office showed the unemployment rate among Vietnamese university graduates rose to nearly 10 percent, around four-fold the average rate.

Officials blame it on employer pickiness or on the fact that their training did not suit market demands, especially amid an economic slump.