Career guidance and counseling in Shanghai, China: 1977 to 2015.

Author:Zhou, Xiaolu
Position:Special Issue: Career Development and Intervention in Chinese Contexts

This article presents 4 stages in the development of career guidance and counseling in education settings in Shanghai, People's Republic of China, from 1977 (after the Cultural Revolution) to 2015, with an economic-political perspective. In the 1st stage (1977-1992), job allocation was implemented by the government as a mandatory regulation to meet the pressing demands for trained professionals in various industries. In the 2nd stage (1993-1999), job allocation was replaced by vocational guidance as a service. In the 3rd stage (2000-2011), there was a growth in career education, mainly in colleges. The 4th stage (2012-2015) witnessed the boom of career counseling with the focus transferring to secondary schools. This article ends with a discussion of the future model of career guidance and counseling in Shanghai.


Career guidance and counseling, as an industry including all services related to career or career development, aims to meet social changes and challenges (Pope, 2000). Over the past decades, China has experienced profound reforms in its economic structure, labor market, education, and technology. As one of the most developed metropolises, Shanghai witnessed a full cycle of career counseling implementation, from its initial emergence in 1917, to the reorientation after the founding of the People's Republic of China, to the abandonment during the 10-yearlong Cultural Revolution, to the reemergence of career guidance and counseling from 1977 onward (Zhang, 1998; Zhang, Hu, & Pope, 2002). In this article, we review the rebirth and subsequent development of career guidance and counseling in education settings in Shanghai since 1977 from an economic-political perspective. Our review draws on government documents, the writings of government officers, and our previous work done in the area of career guidance and counseling aimed to promote the development of the industry.

Since 1977, different terms have been used in government documents and educational settings in Shanghai to indicate career guidance and counseling, representing varied understandings at different times. These terms transformed from job allocation (1977-1992) to vocational guidance (1993-1999) to career education (2000-2011) and to the current use of career counseling (2012-2015). It is interesting that these terms are distributed on a continuum, representing fully regulated government arrangement at one end and choices of individuals at the opposite end. Job allocation emphasizes the states' will and is closer to the idea of government arrangement. In contrast, career counseling emphasizes personal choices and is closer to the other end of the continuum. Vocational guidance and career education lie between the two. Although these terms indicate varying levels of governmental control and individual choice, it is important to view them as related, reflecting an evolutionary progression in the field of career guidance and counseling in China.

First Stage: Job Allocation (1977-1992)

Affected by the socialist and centralized nature of the Chinese government, the planned economy, and the preceding upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, career guidance and counseling was rebirthed in the form of an administrative regulation called job allocation. This regulation meant that the government was responsible for allocating jobs to college or vocational school graduates, and individuals were obligated to abide by the government's arrangements and to contribute to building a socialist society (Zhang et ah, 2002). On the one hand, job allocation matched the socialist ideal and communist description that "each individual has a job." On the other hand, the regulation overly emphasized state interests, collective interests, and socialist construction. Personal interests were largely ignored or sacrificed.

The core of a planned economy is the word planned. The centralized government makes plans for practically every field of the society, including the production and consumption of products and the allocation of various resources. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) resulted in a shortage of talents and skilled workers in almost every profession. For example, the supply-demand ratios in some industries were as high as 1:8 to 1:10 (Wang, 2010). To quickly relieve the demands for professionals in industries, the Chinese government planned the admission of college and vocational schools, as well as job placement of their graduates.

The Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, held in 1978, had far-reaching implications for China (Xinhua Net, 2011). The meeting decided that "socialist modernization" should become the focus of the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese economy began to transform from a planned economy to a market economy. During the 1980s, Shanghai's development strategy was characterized by technological advancement, product upgrading, and service industry development. Therefore, Shanghai's development called for a large number of trained professionals.

At the end of the Cultural Revolution, dramatic changes in educational settings followed. In 1977, college entrance examinations were restored. In 1981, Shanghai had the first college graduates for job allocation. As China's economy transformed from a planned to a market economy, the policy of job allocation went through three stages: mandatory allocation, job allocation with the supplement of demand-supply meeting, and employers-graduates meeting with the supplement of job allocation (Wang, 2010).

In the initial stage, an allocation plan was made by a task force, comprising officers from the Planning Commission, the Higher Education Bureau, and the Bureau of Personnel. An allocation plan was computed simply based on the number of graduates and the demands of the various employers (mainly state-owned enterprises). Job placement officers at respective colleges executed the plan. Employers and graduates had no choice but to accept the mandatory allocation. Often, employers and graduates would not meet before the graduates started working. This rigid allocation worked well in the early stage, partly due to the emphasis that graduates should be assigned to positions matching their majors. Therefore, the pressure of talents shortage was relieved in a short time. However, problems appeared when the needs or preferences of the graduates did not match the requirements or environments of the work.

From 1983 to 1987, as the planned economy was slowly transforming into a planned economy supplemented by market mechanisms, the job placement system was also turning into mandatory allocation supplemented by demand-supply meeting. In 1983, a National University graduates job assignment meeting called for reforms to the job assignment system. In response, Shanghai put forward effective measures, including allowing employers and universities to meet and to give suggestions concerning the allocation plans. Shanghai Jiao Tong University was the first to implement the demand-supply meeting, and many colleges modeled after it.

In 1987, Shanghai made further adjustments to the graduate placement measures. Under the guidance of state planning, graduates now submitted applications for jobs, colleges offered references, and then employers appraised the applicants and decided if they would like to employ the graduates. The needs of graduates and competition between students were introduced into the placement procedure. Students were therefore motivated to perform well in academia. This adjustment was also first tried out at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and then disseminated to other colleges.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, changes occurred to China's economic system, labor market, and higher education. China's then planned economy was becoming a market economy "supplemented by planning." During that period, Shanghai's higher education thrived and more colleges were established. The number of college graduates increased dramatically. Meanwhile, the demands for talent decreased in government agencies, colleges and scientific institutions, and state-owned companies. In contrast, small- and medium-sized enterprises, collective enterprises, and foreign-funded businesses needed large numbers of trained professionals (Wang, 2010). As a result, previous plans of graduate job placement did not go well with these changes.

Before labor markets were formed in China, colleges played an important role as intermediary agencies between graduates and employers. Starting from 1991, Shanghai began to establish tangible labor markets. The year 1991 marked an important turning point. Two legislations--the "Law of the People's Republic of China on Industrial Enterprises Owned by the Whole People" and the "Regulation on the Transformation of Operational Mechanism of the Industrial Enterprises Owned by the Whole...

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