More graduates opt for blue-collar life
Educated elite no longer opposed to joining the ranks of manual workers.
Zhang Quan, one of hundreds of waste collectors registered with a recycling company in Chengdu, Sichuan province, recently amazed his colleagues and netizens with his resume.
The 31-year-old said he has a master's in international management from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, and he used to work as an analyst for a State-owned financial enterprise.
His decision to abandon his office job and become a blue-collar worker is at odds with the accepted career path of most university graduates.
Last month, China News Service posted a video detailing Zhang's change of occupation on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service. It provoked widespread discussion about whether young people who have enjoyed higher education should waste their talent on "petty" jobs.
Zhang said: "Most people treat waste collection as a low-end job. When I am sorting recyclable materials from smelly garbage, passing parents sometimes warn their curious children to keep away from me and my trash pile.
"I feel uncomfortable hearing those words, but I know what I am doing because waste sorting is a promising industry in China. I plan to devote myself to this career and maybe open my own business in the sector."
Having started his new life in December, the native of Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, buys recyclable waste from local residents and carries it by truck to a recycling station where he sells it at a profit.
His monthly income can reach 40,000 yuan ($6,152), while his basic salary as an analyst in Chengdu was 1,500 yuan.
The downside is that he works more than 10 hours a day and is only free after 10 pm. When he discussed his story on the phone, he yawned several times.
"There is nothing to be ashamed of: I'm doing what I want and making money with my own hands. At the end of last year, my father was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. I need to support him financially," he said.
Once, he wore a suit to his office job, but now he drives a truck around the city and picks up waste on dusty roadsides. Before, he handled multimillion yuan investment deals, but now he bargains with people over a few cents for some cardboard.
Zhang said he enjoys his new job. "When I worked in the office, I dared not speak out loud because people communicated with each other via WeChat. I prefer my current situation, which is more physical and with noisier surroundings," he said.
He recalled a scene in the UK that impressed him, when he witnessed a group of construction workers on the street who sang as they toiled. During their lunch break, they bought coffee and sat chatting on the side of the road. "They seemed really happy to me," he said.
Recently, Liu Shuang, a nanny in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, has also been the subject of discussion.
The 33-year-old has a master's in French from Xi'an International Studies University in the capital city of Shaanxi province.
Her resume states that she is fluent in French and English and has work experience at a branch of a communications company in the African country of Guinea. She has also taught English at an early education company in Hangzhou.
Last year, she became a registered nanny with Swan Daojia, an online domestic service platform.
She said that unlike working in a traditional office with many rules and codes, she can be more relaxed and treat her clients like family and friends.
"I think this way of getting along will promote long-lasting cooperation," she said.
"However, my mother didn't quite understand me in the beginning because she holds the stereotypical view that a nanny is someone who 'serves others' and is inferior. She couldn't accept that I would do that after undertaking higher education."
Liu added that demand for high-end services in the domestic market cannot be met, and the industry has huge growth potential. Moreover, her strong academic background makes her popular with customers, who are happy to pay more for the services she provides.
"Busy working parents need someone to provide high-quality care for their children. A tutor can't live with the children, but I can teach them languages and play with them like a friend. That is exactly what the customers want," she said.
She was inspired to enter the sector after dealing with a nanny she hired to care for her own children.
"I found that being a nanny requires not only organizational ability, but also good communication skills. I like organizing things and am confident about my social skills, so I applied for a job," she said.
She declined to disclose her earnings, but an internet search suggested that the current monthly salary for high-end domestic helpers is more than 10,000 yuan.
A technical knockout
Like Liu, interest and a sense of belonging led Zhou Hao to his career after he made headlines by dropping out of Peking University, one of China's most prestigious schools, in Beijing.
In 2011, he quit the elite university, where he was studying life sciences, and transferred to the Beijing Industrial Technician College to learn computer numerical control－the programming and use of automated machinery.
"Compared with, say, Germany, China lacks highly educated skilled workers. I have loved dismantling machinery and installing home appliances since I was a child, so I decided to go with my interests," he told China Youth Daily in 2014.
According to the newspaper's report, Zhou, now 31, won admission to the technical college in 2011, but he encountered opposition from his parents and other relatives.
"I tend to care about other people's opinions, but doing something I don't like would ruin my life. When I am living a wonderful life, no one will doubt my choice," he was quoted as saying.
In 2014, Zhou won first prize in the CNC Machine Tool Assembly and Maintenance Competition, a national skills contest. He became a lecturer at the technical college, and in 2018 he won first prize in a national contest for teachers.
"Every trade has its master. Everyone needs to work in a position that suits and interests them. People who find their true position will enjoy life more," Zhou was quoted as saying in the China Youth Daily story.