Shi Xin, a fourth-year student of traffic engineering at Shijiazhuang Tiedao University, said he never expected looking for a job could turn out to be so arduous.
The graduate-to-be has attended two job fairs on the campus and sent his resume to more than 10 possible employers since September, but has not received a single response worth getting excited about.
"The demand for traffic engineering graduates was always robust," he said. "But this year the situation is reversed."
According to Shi, only about 50 of some 240 students in his major have found jobs. Most of them would have had better luck had they been in the job market this past year.
Dong Cang, Shi's classmate, said many major railway companies have slashed their number of new recruits.
"Jobs were cut to almost one fifth of the numbers last year as the industry was facing many troubles," he said.
Jin Mengmeng, who studies railway engineering, finds the current sluggish job market depressing, especially since she believes female candidates are up against tougher competition."Some of my seniors, who found employment this past year, were sent back home in September, waiting for job assignments," she said.
The construction of railways in China slowed down after a deadly train crash near Wenzhou in East China in July. The public also raised concerns over rail safety as two subway trains rear-ended in Shanghai two months later, injuring nearly 300 passengers.
Media reports said in mid-October that the country's rail projects, spanning 10,000 km, have been suspended due to a cash crunch. Many migrant workers had not been paid for six months while rail construction companies owed big sums to cement and steel suppliers.
In East China's Shandong province, new graduates specially trained to build tracks, bridges, tunnels and other railway-related features were taking up jobs in civil engineering as major employers, such as China Railway Group, delayed or canceled campus recruitment, the local newspaper Qilu Evening News reported.
"Jobs in the industry decreased by 60 percent to 80 percent this year, especially those in engineering and construction companies," said Hu Xiaoting, a recruitment specialist at tl.job1001.com, a Shenzhen-based website that provides human resources solutions for more than 3,000 railway enterprises.
"Work in related areas, such as power supply or railway signaling, was also affected," Hu said.
Huo Yamin, deputy head of the employment office at Southwest Jiaotong Univeristy, said there were new trends in the employment market.
"Students tend to sign work contract with employers very early instead of shopping around," she said.
"More students are willing to take up jobs in the western regions and at the grassroots level, which were less attractive before."
In order to help students find employment, the office encouraged them to be more flexible with choices, such as trying related professions in the booming industry of subway construction, Huo said.
The Chinese government has approved work on urban rail transit projects in 28 cities, covering a total length of 2,700 kilometers and needing an investment of more than 1 trillion yuan ($158 billion), according to China Communications and Transportation Association.
"We have seen that more and more job seekers are prone to finding a position in the urban railway industry," Hu Xiaoting said.
Although dismayed by the current results, Shi Xin is hopeful about the second round of campus recruitments, due in March.
"You never know about the ever-changing job market," he said. "And in the worst case scenario I would still find a job with a small house-building company, rather than be unemployed."