Social workers in rising demand

Updated: 2013-08-25 23:46

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Jobs abound but low pay grade pushing away new graduates

Shen Guangyu, who graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in social work in July, says he has been spared the task of job hunting that many other graduates have to experience.

This summer has been described as the worst job hunting season after nearly 7 million graduates entered the labor market.

Social workers in rising demand

A social worker helps an elderly woman with some handicraft at a community center in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Xu Yu / Xinhua

"It's easy to land a job for a social work major, there are loads of opportunities for us online," said Shen, 24, who was recruited by an NGO in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

Almost every day on the websites he regularly visits, he said, there is new information about jobs. The jobs range from rebuilding communities in earthquake-hit areas to working with homeless children, drug addicts and the elderly.

Shen is responsible for providing support and services for the elderly in three communities and earns about 3,000 yuan ($490) a month. "I love working with senior citizens, and I'm fine with the salary, which is mid-range for graduates in Chengdu," said the native of Benxi, Liaoning province.

About a third of Shen's 33 classmates from the Southwest University for Nationalities chose to become social workers, while others either applied for work in governmental agencies or continued their studies.

Wang Tianzi, was recruited by Peking University Sixth Hospital two months before she graduated in July from the department of social work at China Women's University in Beijing.

"A year before graduation, we can choose a major we're interested in," she said.

Her department arranged for her to work as an intern in a hospital based on her enthusiasm for caring for people with mental heathy problems.

"Employers who need social workers have to ‘make reservations' ahead of graduation, so I didn't even need to go to job fairs to look for work," she said.

However, only 10 out of about 70 graduates in Wang's department chose a career in social work. "It's still a fledging sector and not a well-respected career," she said. "The starting salary is not that attractive, and it's more frustrating that a social worker with 10 years experience earns little more than a rookie."

An official with the China Association of Social Workers said college graduates are not tempted by social work because even in big cities they earn less than the average income.

The monthly salary for a social worker in the capital is about 3,000 yuan, while the average income was about 5,200 yuan last year, she said.

On the Chinese mainland, there are 320 universities and colleges teaching courses in social work, which cultivates about 10,000 social workers every year, according to the latest blue book released by the Social Work Research Center on Tuesday.

A national talent strategy aims to cultivate 1.45 million social workers by 2020. There are currently 300,000 in the nation.

To attract more talents to become social workers, some local governments including Shenzhen and Shanghai have introduced favorable policies to encourage the development of social organizations and provide subsidies for these organizations to provide competitive salaries for social workers, said the blue book.

Peng Zhen, in charge of student employment affairs at China Youth University for Political Sciences' School of Social Work, said he witnessed an increasing demand for social work graduates this year, especially among employers in Guangdong.

"More than 20 social work institutions from Guangzhou (the provincial capital) and Shenzhen held job fairs on our campus. Some had 20 vacancies," he said. "The demand is huge."

However, only 12 of the 80 students who received bachelor's degrees in social work accepted job offers to become front-line social workers, he said, and even fewer master's graduates chose it as a career.

Graduates shy away from the job mainly due to an unclear career ladder, he said.

Yan Ran contributed to this story.