A famous teacher who makes 50 USD for an hour of teaching, and an advisor for business investment projects, Ch. Odonbileg says, “Ghosts with bachelor’s degrees walk everywhere on the Ulaanbaatar streets.” The ghosts are students who have graduated university but haven’t obtained professional skills or experience. They want to work in their chosen professional fields, but they can’t.
Everybody says we need to develop our tourism sector but there are insufficient human resources in the tourism sector. What is the reason? Many can’t speak the English language. The problem isn’t only in the tourism sector. Everybody knows that the nation’s education system needs to change. Our ghosts with bachelor’s degrees are working as salespeople without shame or pride, and people who only have high school certificates can’t find jobs as desirable as sales.
One salesman who graduated from university specializing in travel and hotel management, Batbayar says, “Twenty-five students graduated from the National University of Mongolia in travel and hotel management four years ago, but only three students work in their profession. The other 15 to 20 students work as salesmen. I know it sounds crazy, but that is true.” His current job is with Smart Electronics LLC, selling equipment and home appliances such as televisions set and vacuum cleaners by the hundreds, without time to take a lunch break. Ten guys and two women work as lead salespeople or shift salesmen. Five of them graduated with degrees to work in hotel and travel management or as tour guides.
Recently, these coworkers celebrated their one year anniversary of working at Smart Electronics. The majority of them can’t speak English. That’s why four hotel and tourism managers work here. They passed tourism company interviews, but when they went to actual job interviews, they were mute in front of hiring managers. According to them, their English teachers did not teach them spoken English well enough and they did not spend enough time trying to learn. Some of these guys say that the two sides are equally wrong, and that they did not know how to learn, because most of the students who studied tourism and hotel management spent their time traveling out of town and drinking vodka. Only four or five of the students in their class already knew English, and they were just improving their historical and geographical knowledge. Those were the few who succeeded in job interviews.
According to the National Statistical Office’s data from January of this year, 42 thousand people registered as unemployed with the Labor Exchange. As for the educational backgrounds of those on the unemployed list, 30 percent hold diplomas or a bachelor’s degree.
One of Batbayar’s female coworkers, Bolor says, “I graduated from university in tour and hotel management, but I interviewed ten times and failed because I can’t speak English. One year ago, I bought a newspaper and read about a job vacancy that offered a high salary to work as a home appliance salesperson with a bachelor’s degree. When my classmates, friends or teachers come here and buy some appliances, I hide behind the curtains. I haven’t told them I’m working as a salesperson. It is shameful, because when I was at university I was awarded top student of the year.”
The human resource manager of the company, Ariunaa says, “I think tourism and hotel managers have a hard time finding a job, because it is seasonal work. When I put a job vacancy in the newspaper, the first ten people are from this sector.”
The National University of Mongolia was established in 1942 as the nation’s first modern institution of higher education. Today, there are over 200 colleges, universities and teacher training colleges, 42 of which are public. When people hear about the number of universities in Mongolia, their eyes get bigger.
Currently, 98 thousand students are enrolled at Mongolian higher education institutions. Of these, 32 thousand students study at private institutions.
During the 2002-2003 academic year, 67 thousand students earned their diplomas and degrees from public higher education institutions, while over 31 thousand students earned qualifications from private institutions.
The background of these ghosts
It took relatively little time to develop the Mongolian higher education system, which was modeled on the education systems of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. Before the communist revolution in the early 1920s, Mongolia had no universities or other institutions for higher education.
L. Baasanjav is the director of the Tourism and Hotel Management Department. When asked about high numbers of unemployment he said, “I don’t know exactly. Their employment depends on their training and personal character. I’ve never heard this before. Four or five tour managers work at a store?”
Practical training is an important part of the higher education curriculum. Mongolian institutions of higher education offer several types of practical training. On-campus practical training includes seminars, supervised study projects, laboratory projects and learning practice. Off-campus practical training (under supervision in a workplace environment) includes technological training, observatory survey and pre-diploma independent practice.
There are fewer men compared to women with access to higher education, contributing to unrealized labor productivity. Conversely, women have lower labor force participation at the national and decision-making level. The current labor market in Mongolia is plagued with untapped human capital, low-productivity jobs, and a lack of skilled workers. Harsh winters and summer droughts have contributed to the growing rural–urban migration patterns. About 60 percent of young workers are employed informally and data from the Labor Force Survey from last year reveal that 27 percent of non-agricultural employment is in informal activities. Also, none of the unemployed in the informal sector have access to unemployment insurance benefits.
The labor market in Mongolia is currently faced with three-fold challenges: unemployment, lack of job security, and skills mismatch in labor market demands. One thing is plain to see, as more bachelor’s degree graduates are working as salespeople in home appliance stores or at the malls, something needs to change. When that change will come, nobody knows. But officials say they are working on it.