“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 Economic 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.
“Employers require applicants to have mid-level professional work experience and English language and IT skills, though it’s only a low-level job.”
After four years of toil at the university and working part-time for a year as a tutor and a sales assistant at a stationery shop, she has yet to get a full-time job.
Hang is among over 400,000 university graduates entering the Vietnamese job market each year. Many of them struggle to find a job.
Every year is the most difficult in history for job-seeking graduates, with the next being even more difficult.
Le Thanh Tuyen, who sells souvenirs at the night market in Hanoi’s old quarter, graduated with a finance and banking diploma last year. She sent her CV to various places, but never even got a response. “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.”
The services and industrial sectors are improving but are not expanding quickly enough to absorb the increasing numbers of aspiring attorneys, accountants, biologists, and other young professionals.
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 percent of them go to vocational schools, while most others only want a university degree, he said.
The number of university graduates unable to find jobs has been increasing and this group now accounts for a fifth of the country's unemployed workforce, according to new data released by the ministry.
The education ministry said 225,500 people with a bachelor's or master's degree are currently without a job, up 13.3 percent from the third quarter in 2015.
The education ministry, to improve education quality, has recently issued a policy which aims to limit the number of students at each school to under 15,000, starting this year.
But Hoang Ngoc Vinh, director of the ministry’s professional education department, said the unemployment problem might be caused by the quality of university education rather than a surfeit of university graduates.
Around 25-30 percent of the workforce in developed countries are university graduates, while the ratio is only 7 percent in Vietnam, he pointed out.
Many employers say students may have textbook knowledge but do not have the ability to take that knowledge to think critically, innovate, solve complex problems and work well in a team.
The director of a Hanoi-based medical equipment importer said his firm wants to recruit some engineers, but none of dozens of applicants fully meets its requirements.
Many engineers do not know foreign languages and are not abreast of developments in their own fields, he said. To have engineers who fit the bill, the company has to spend large amounts of money to train people both at home and abroad.
The managing director of jobs firm Navigos Search, Nguyen Thi Van Anh, said the shortage of necessary skills is much more serious in Vietnam than in other ASEAN countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Local engineers do not stay up to date with regard to information and technology, and also lack foreign language skills and creativity, she said. Managers have modest management skills and knowledge of law and finance, she added.
“Skills gaps and mismatches still exist between the classroom and the workplace,” director of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Vietnam, Gyorgy Sziraczki, said.
“So bridging the gaps and addressing future demands for skills through better education, business cooperation and business participation in the development of skills standards and training curriculum are critical.”
The ILO has made recommendations to help Vietnam boost employment growth, including aligning of economic and workforce planning, certification of skills, and enhancing of partnerships between education-training providers and the private sector.
Many graduates want jobs in the state sector, which has little demand for human resources. The private sector is picky, and university degrees seem no passport for students to break into it.
In big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, many graduates work for low salaries, Nguyen Thi Lan Huong, chief of the ministry-run Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, said.
However, some do not do that and wait for well-paying jobs that may never come as they do not have English language skills or knowledge and confidence to be able to compete for the small number of top jobs.
Nguyen Duy Long has failed to get a white-collar job since graduating from the Hanoi University of Commerce two years ago, but he does not want a blue-collar job.
“There are jobs out there, but few of them meet my expectations,” he said, attending a job fair. But since his family lives in Hanoi there is no rush to find a job to pay for his living expenses, he said.
Like Long, many graduates do not want blue-collar jobs despite having no work or money.
They rely on their parents instead. Waiting has become a profession for young people.
Phan Truong Son, manager of a chain of restaurants, cafes and shops in Hanoi, said his firm announced vacancies for 20 salespeople and waiters, but got only three applications.
“New graduates should do simple jobs to get experience and learn to communicate with people, instead of waiting for white-collar jobs,” he said.
“Jobs are the best teacher of soft skills that employers seek.”