Chinese graduates are applying for jobs in crematoriums amid a rise in youth unemployment. Yan Krukau/Pexels

A significant number of China's highly skilled students are seeking employment as cremation workers amidst the current youth unemployment crisis in the country.

Last month, the Guangzhou Civil Affairs Bureau in Guangdong province, southern China, announced online the successful candidates for jobs in crematoriums across the city.

Among the selected applicants was an impressive graduate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a master's degree in philosophy. Additionally, graduates with backgrounds in chemistry and architecture from Guangzhou's top universities were also chosen for roles in the crematorium.

Crematorium jobs are government-affiliated positions, which offer benefits to those working in the sector. The Guangzhou Civil Affairs Bureau disclosed that cremation workers enjoy high job security and are guaranteed employment for their entire careers through a system known as 'bian zhi', which ensures career progression within the government sector.

Despite the less appealing aspects of the job such as working night shifts and handling deceased bodies, the guarantee of 'bian zhi' likely motivates individuals to pursue these vacancies.

Eligibility requirements for the cremation position include having a post-secondary school education, a driver's license, and proof of permanent residence in Guangzhou. The need for a tertiary education may be a driving factor for talented graduates to apply for this role.

While the assurance of job security is evident, an official from the bureau mentioned that cremation staff do not receive as high a salary as some may assume.

He clarified that although workers in this role have 'bian zhi', their monthly salary is determined by the government's pay scale, which is relatively low compared to other industries. Very few people earn as much as 10,000 yuan ($1,400) monthly.

The trend of overqualified graduates applying for crematorium vacancies reflects the broader economic challenges in China. Many individuals who could contribute to high-paying industries are opting for the stability of a cremation job.

The value of a degree has declined, with the appeal of crematorium jobs to graduates being described as "a perfect example of diploma devaluation."

The broader issue in China is the increasing unemployment rate among young people. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) for March 2024 revealed that 15.3 per cent of Chinese people aged 16-24 were unemployed, an increase from the 14.6 per cent figure in January.

Given the difficulty of securing jobs, becoming a cremation worker may be among the best employment options for young people in China due to the guaranteed stability of the role.

The NBS stopped releasing youth unemployment figures in the second half of 2023, and current university students are no longer included in the data as part of a new methodology implemented since the start of 2024. As a result, the unemployment rate statistics are expected to rise as current university students become graduates and are included in the data.

The challenges many graduates face in securing jobs do not bode well for the millions of students seeking to enter China's job market this year.

The trend of overqualified graduates applying for jobs in unrelated fields like crematoriums could have long-term effects on the labor market and the economy, leading to a mismatch between skills and job requirements, and potentially decreasing productivity and innovation.