The pandemic has hit the local economy hard, with the unemployment rate rising to a recent high, particularly youth unemployment, thus requiring swift actions to prevent it from snowballing into a social problem.
It’s an instant relief for Eric when he finally lands a job at a recruitment fair for the soon-to-be-opening Cotai gaming project, Grand Lisboa Palace. “I’m just happy I now have a job after job hunting for months — albeit it is not exactly my ideal job,” says Eric, who graduated in social work from a local tertiary education institution this year and is now employed as a membership officer for the customers’ loyalty programmes in the resort. “I don’t have any huge financial pressure, as I live with my family, but I did feel that my mum wanted me to find a job as soon as possible.”
Eric’s story rings true for quite a few local newly graduates and youngsters, who face mounting pressure and numerous challenges in their job hunting and who have to manage their expectations amid the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Latest official figures show the overall unemployment rate in the territory stood at 2.9 percent in the third quarter of this year, the highest since the third quarter of 2010, as travel restrictions aimed at preventing the further spread of the virus have deeply dampened the city’s main economic pillars, the gaming and tourism sectors. The jobless rate for residents was even higher, at 4.1 percent in the July-September period, rising by 0.6 percent from the previous quarter to the highest level since the third quarter of 2009, government data said.
The Statistics and Census Service remarked: “With fresh graduates entering the labour market, the number of individuals seeking their first job increased by 1,500 quarter-to-quarter to 2,100 [in the July-September period], driving up the number of the unemployed by 1,700 to 11,800. Among the unemployed, 57.6 percent have been searching for a job for less than four months.” The number of first-job seekers among the unemployed was also the highest since the 2,200 figure coming out of the third quarter of 2009.
A breakdown on the data of the resident labour force also shows that the jobless rate among residents aged 16-24 stood at 18.2 percent in the third quarter of 2020 — nearly one out of every five local youngsters were unemployed, the worst performance among all age groups and the highest since such data was available in 2013. As for the entire labour force in the city, the unemployment rate in the 16-24 age group hit 12.2 percent in the July-September period this year, the highest since the last quarter of 2003.
“The robust tourism development in the past decade or so has helped alleviate unemployment here,” says Samuel Tong Kai Chung, president of the Macau Institute of Management. “With the pandemic triggering a global economic slowdown, the local economy has experienced a huge downward trend and the labour demand has significantly shrunk.”
Pointing out the severity of youth unemployment this year, the academic warns: “Should the youngsters not be able to find a stable job in the long run, the unemployment among [this type of people] could become an underlying social problem.”
Before COVID-19, it was common for university graduates to have a number of job offers to choose from, but the pandemic has changed everything this year. After graduating in visual design from a local tertiary education institution this year, Christy is still looking for a full-time job. “I didn’t expect the job market would be this challenging — I thought, before the pandemic, it would not be very difficult to get a marketing, design, or PR-related job in gaming or design firms,” she says.
Though she had job interviews with about seven to eight firms in the past few months, the attempts were in vain — either the companies, ranging from gaming operators to small- and medium-sized enterprises, did not make any offer or the offer did not satisfy her. “One production and advertising company offered me just MOP 8,000 [US $1,000] a month in the beginning, and did not specify how much they could increase the salary after the probation [period],” she laments. “I understand the current climate is also difficult for small businesses, but that offer is unreasonable and takes advantage of the situation.”
As she is living with her family, she says some freelance design tasks recommended by her friends and working for a few days a month as a part-time sales assistant in a small boutique could still support her daily expenses. “That’s why I still have the luxury to look for a job that suits me. Some of my classmates, who are in a less ideal financial situation, have to do jobs they don’t really like or are low-paid,” Christy says, adding she might pursue further studies should she still not be able to find a proper job next year.
Eric, the one who graduated in social work this year, also felt frustrated because of the job hunting process after sending applications to over 30 potential employers in the past few months without any success. “I at first thought the economic climate would not impact the job prospect of social workers, but it seems there are fewer or no new openings this year in local social service institutions and associations, which are more cautious with their expenditures,” he remarks.
While he was looking for his first full-time job, he worked as a part-time tutor at a tutorial centre and a waiter-cum-barista at a local cafe. “The cafe offered me a full-time job, but the owner said she could only give as much as MOP 11,000 in the beginning without a 13th month pay,” he remarks. “As it’s not the type of job I wanted, the workload was heavy, and the remuneration package was much below average, I didn’t accept the offer.” Latest official data shows that the median monthly earnings for residents stood at MOP 18,300 in the third quarter, down by 8.5 percent year-on-year and quarter-to-quarter.
After months struggling to find a suitable full-time job, Eric at last was successful; the Grand Lisboa Palace offered him a monthly salary of over MOP 14,000. “I also feel like I have more job security when my employer is a gaming operator rather than just a small cafe,” he says, adding he hopes to accumulate working experience and will look for a social worker position again when the local economy improves.
Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted both online and offline by the Macao New Chinese Youth Association, nearly 70 percent of 754 graduates this year said they opted for a more stable job in light of the pandemic, and fewer graduates would choose a more challenging job. The survey also shows that only 23 percent of the interviewees would accept a monthly salary of MOP 13,000 or less before COVID-19, but this salary level was acceptable for over 40 percent of them after the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 20 percent of them said they could accept any offer as long as they were employed, the survey added.
“Many enterprises have streamlined their expenses amid the current economic climate, leading to fewer available openings in the job market and more challenges for graduates looking for their first jobs,” says James Chan Ngoi Chon, deputy convenor of the economic policy task force at the Macao New Chinese Youth Association. For instance, there were only 63 institutions and companies catering over 3,000 job positions in the Youth Career Expo held this August, an annual recruitment fair co-organised by the association and the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL), about 20 percent fewer than last year. But the number of expo visitors hit a record high of over 4,200, underscoring the strong job demand among this year’s graduates.
Remarking that employers have more choices at the moment, Mr. Chan pinpoints, “Graduates should be better prepared for job interviews to showcase to the employers their visions and skills, as well as to manage their expectations for their first job amid the current [economic] climate.”
The government should better follow up on the effectiveness of its support schemes and measures for graduates, as well as cooperate with local tertiary education institutions and youth associations to offer more support and counselling services for the youth in terms of their career prospects. “As it might take more time for graduates to find a job during the pandemic… the government could extend some of its support measures [for graduates] to local youngsters who have graduated from universities within two years,” he adds.
Training and internship
In view of the economic turmoil, the administration has launched an array of measures to facilitate local employment and assist youngsters in seeking their first job. DSAL launched a paid internship scheme titled “Overcoming the Difficulties Caused by the Pandemic and Creating Better Job Prospects”, allowing university graduates to work in public utilities, banking institutions, and gaming operators for three months with a monthly salary of MOP 8,000, or an hourly wage of MOP 50.
In a bid to help them gain some working experience and to enhance their career competitiveness, the scheme provided a quota of 1,800, but just 1,618 graduates signed up for the scheme and only 436 people actually worked throughout the internships. Some applicants did not join or complete the internships because they had already found a full-time job, they could not adjust to shift work, the internship positions did not align with their majors, or for other reasons, DSAL justified. However, DSAL also added that the participating companies had expressed willingness to recruit 344 out of the 436 participants as their full-time workers — over 70 percent of the total — with an average monthly salary of MOP 15,000.
“DSAL pays close attention to the local labour market and youth employment, actively supports the local youth employment in accordance with the actual job market demand, and continuously reviews and appropriately adjusts all types of support measures so as to create more job opportunities for the youth,” the bureau noted. “Given the feedback of some graduates of the paid internship programme that they prefer to look for a stable full-time job [rather than an internship scheme], DSAL held a specific job matching session for the university graduates at the end of October in light of their needs.”
The job matching session DSAL refers to was held in collaboration with the Grand Lisboa Palace, providing 300 vacancies in hotel operation, VIP services, marketing, and food and beverages in the upcoming Cotai project. The bureau notified close to 820 graduates about the session, and about 130 joined the event to job hunt.
The “Subsidised Training Scheme Geared Towards Employability” rolled out by DSAL, targeting the unemployed, has also been extended to unemployed university graduates since September. It offers a subsidy of MOP6,656 for participants to attend skill enhancement courses from business management to technology training to tourism. After completing the courses, the participants have to accept the job referral and matching services by DSAL for a potential job. Following the first two rounds of applications in September and October, over 1,120 graduates applied for the subsidised training scheme, accounting for 39 percent of the total applicants.
“Given the global economic prospect and the recent signs of recovery of the local economy, the pandemic could still impact the local economy for a while… and the job market will remain to be challenging in the short run,” says legislator Wong Kit Cheng. “It is important that the administration should closely follow up the situation of the university graduates, particularly those who have participated in the supported schemes but have yet secured a full-time job.”
The lawmaker suggests the time period for the paid internship scheme could extend to more than three months, while the subsidised training scheme should cover more fields in tandem with local labour demand. “These could help [the graduate] to gain working experiences and improve their skills… further enhancing their employment chances,” she adds.