THE RIGHT TAL­ENT

Spe­cial­ized skills can help for­eign pro­fes­sion­als power ahead in China’s tough em­ploy­ment mar­ket,

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - as Joseph Catanzaro and Li Aoxue re­port.

China-spe­cific skills vi­tal for job seek­ers

They filled the sec­ond floor of the Swis­so­tel in Bei­jing with forced smiles, pressed shirts and smart skirts, a flood of hope­ful for­eign­ers clutch­ing at re­sumes and busi­ness cards, drawn by the siren song of good money and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties in the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy.

From be­hind fold­out desks at the an­nual Job Fair for For­eign­ers in Bei­jing, wouldbe em­ploy­ers sur­veyed the smor­gas­bord of im­ported tal­ent on of­fer with a dis­cern­ing eye.

As re­cently as five years ago, those in the know say most of th­ese hope­fuls would have been al­most im­me­di­ately snapped up.

Now, the suc­cess or fail­ure of for­eign­ers seek­ing em­ploy­ment in China is — like the evolv­ing, frag­ment­ing to­pog­ra­phy of the jobs mar­ket it­self — much more com­plex and dif­fi­cult to map.

Quite a few of those stak­ing their faith in the prom­ise of boom-time China do leave the job fair with in­ter­views ar­ranged, like the 29- yearold Ital­ian in­ter­na­tional sales man­ager who gives the alias Cae­sar be­cause he al­ready has a good job in Guangzhou and doesn’t want to alert his boss to the fact he has just re­ceived two bet­ter of­fers.

Other hope­fuls get the po­lite palm off, a glossy pam­phlet for their trou­bles and a mum­bled nicety to send them on their way.

The sub­text of this cock­tail of suc­cess and re­jec­tion stacks up with what em­ploy­ers, academics and re­cruiters tell China Busi­ness Weekly — China is in a state of change and the jobs mar­ket is chang­ing with it.

De­spite be­ing fre­quently char­ac­ter­ized as boom or bust, those tak­ing a big­ger-pic­ture view say the em­ploy­ment mar­ket in China can’t eas­ily be quan­ti­fied in ab­so­lutes. Some sec­tors are boom­ing; oth­ers are on the wane.

One point of con­sen­sus is that it is now gen­er­ally harder for for­eign­ers to get their foot in the door, out­side of the ev­erin-de­mand roles for English lan­guage teach­ers.

China still wants you, but only if you’re at the top of your game in a se­lect num­ber of pro­fes­sions — and only if you’ve put in the ef­fort to make sure you have some China-spe­cific skills that em­ploy­ers now re­quire.

Time- wasters, in­clud­ing any­one who would strug­gle to get a com­pa­ra­ble po­si­tion in the West, need not ap­ply.

It’s one of the main mes­sages for­eign job seek­ers are re­ceiv­ing in e-mail ex­changes with prospec­tive em­ploy­ers, in meet­ing rooms dur­ing in­ter­views and in con­ver­sa­tions with re­cruit­ment agen­cies.

The other is that if you have the rare luck or fore­sight to pos­sess a skill set that is cur­rently in de­mand in cer­tain grow­ing in­dus­tries — and if your per­sonal back­ground and ex­pe­ri­ence ticks all the boxes — you can al­most name your price in terms of wages.

Great op­por­tu­nity

Last month, a top of­fi­cial in the agency that han­dles for­eign ex­perts af­fairs in­di­cated that China would for the first time pub­lish a skills short­age list next year to at­tract the right kind of for­eign tal­ent.

The game- changi ng an­nounce­ment from Liu Yan­guo, deputy di­rec­tor of the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of For­eign Ex­perts Af­fairs, came as lead­ing think tank the Center for China and Glob­al­iza­tion warned the coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a crit­i­cal short­age of “global tal­ent”.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s di­rec­tor, Wang Huiyao, says China will need an ad­di­tional 75,000 ex­ec­u­tive man­agers with global ex­pe­ri­ence in the next five to 10 years.

That there is great op­por­tu­nity in China is not in dis­pute. But in the of­ten con­fus­ing and con­tra­dic­tory storm of in­for­ma­tion that will con­tinue to rage un­til the of­fi­cial skills list is pub­lished, the ques­tion many for­eign­ers face hangs over who and what ex­actly, China wants.

French­man An­thony Gar­cia, 33, who ar­rived in China two years ago, wishes he knew. An IT project man­ager with 10 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, Gar­cia spent his first 12 months in Bei­jing study­ing Man­darin to make him­self a more at­trac­tive hire.

The past year has been a weari­some suc­ces­sion of ap­pli­ca­tions and in­ter­views. One of the early birds to turn out at the job fair, he says de­spite his best ef­forts, he still has not se­cured em­ploy­ment.

“I feel it is not that easy now,” Gar­cia says. “I think it used to be eas­ier. China is still OK, but I think the econ­omy is not as good as it was.”

While China’s econ­omy did take a slight hit this year when the growth rate dipped from 7.7 per­cent in the first quar­ter to 7.5 per­cent in the sec­ond quar­ter, Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics fig­ures show the GDP growth rate re­bounded to 7.8 per­cent in the July to Septem­ber pe­riod. Slower growth isn’t cited as a fac­tor af­fect­ing the em­ploy­ment mar­ket for for­eign­ers in China.

If any­thing, ex­perts such as Wang be­lieve gov­ern­ment re­forms to tackle cur­rent eco­nomic chal­lenges and trans­form China into an “in­no­va­tion­driven econ­omy” will ac­tu­ally bol­ster the case for hir­ing more for­eign work­ers with valu­able skill sets.

Pre­ferred choice

On fur­ther re­flec­tion, Gar­cia con­cedes more com­pe­ti­tion from both Chi­nese lo­cals and an in­flux of qual­i­fied for­eign­ers have shifted the goal­posts. He needs to ad­just his ex­pec­ta­tions in terms of po­si­tion and pay.

Am­bre Mun­dula, a se­nior con­sul­tant with JAC Re­cruit­ment, which sources tal­ent for multi­na­tional firms op­er­at­ing in China, says Chi­nese re­turnees are now the pre­ferred hires.

This year, she says JAC only needed to ad­ver­tise out­side this de­mo­graphic once.

“It’s much harder for for­eign­ers now,” she says. “There’s much more com­pe­ti­tion from Chi­nese re­turnees who have been abroad. They speak English and they are cheaper than for­eign­ers.”

Mun­dula says typ­i­cally, the en­try- level, monthly salary for a for­eigner in a wide range of in­dus­tries starts be­tween 15,000 and 20,000 yuan ($ 3,290). JAC can source a Chi­nese re­turnee with pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence who is flu­ent in English and Man­darin for about 10,000 yuan.

At man­age­ment level, a Chi­nese re­turnee gen­er­ally costs about 30,000 less yuan per month than hir­ing a for­eigner.

Si­mon Lance, re­gional di­rec­tor in China for Hays Re­cruit­ment says he agrees the job mar­ket is be­com­ing much more com­pet­i­tive for for­eign­ers. The rise of lo­cal tal­ent in cer­tain sec­tors is one of the rea­sons why.

Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, this year alone a record-break­ing 6.99 mil­lion stu­dents grad­u­ated from col­leges across China, a 2.8 per­cent in­crease since 2012. An in­flux of for­eign­ers flee­ing poor job mar­kets in their home coun­tries is another fac­tor that can’t be dis­counted. The most re­cent fig­ures from the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of For­eign Ex­perts Af­fairs puts the num­ber of for­eign­ers cur­rently work­ing in China at about 550,000.

What it all boils down to, Lance says, is that Chi­nese em­ploy­ers can now af­ford to be more dis­cern­ing.

“The days of be­ing an ex­pa­tri­ate and be­ing guar­an­teed a job in China are well and truly over,” Lance says. “I think em­ploy­ers are rais­ing the level of ex­pec­ta­tion they have if they are go­ing to hire an in­ter­na­tional can­di­date.”

Lance is adamant that one of the big changes in the Chi­nese job mar­ket com­pared with five years ago is that it is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to get a foot in the door with­out some Man­darin. He says the bet­ter your lan­guage skills, the bet­ter your chances. He also warns that com­pa­nies in China now want to know why you are leav­ing home and how long you’re pre­pared to stay.

“A lot of Chi­nese em­ploy­ers now are look­ing for spe­cial­ized skill sets and they are not in­ter­ested in hir­ing some­one just be­cause they are an ex­pa­tri­ate or a for­eigner,” Lance says.

“We do get a lot of in­quiries from peo­ple who don’t have a strong rea­son to come to China, other than fac­ing tougher eco­nomic con­di­tions in the UK or Europe. They are as­sum­ing they will be at­trac­tive to Chi­nese em­ploy­ers, whereas the re­al­ity now is you re­ally need to be able to show that strong con­nec­tion to China or Asia, that you are com­mit­ted for a rea­son­able amount of time. Em­ploy­ers are in­ter­ested in why you are com­ing to China. If it’s just be­cause things are tough at home, that’s not re­ally enough any­more to get Chi­nese com­pa­nies in­ter­ested.”

Lance says two years is about the min­i­mum com­mit­ment em­ploy­ers are now look­ing for. Se­nior hires are gen­er­ally ex­pected to stay longer.

In par­tic­u­lar, grad­u­ate jobs for for­eign­ers are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to get. Lance says many young peo­ple now come to China on in­tern­ships hop­ing it will lead to em­ploy­ment. For Gar­cia, who did an in­tern­ship with Len­ovo, the gam­ble did not pay off.

Va­can­cies ex­ist

But de­spite this tighter, tougher jobs mar­ket, Hays and other re­cruit­ment agen­cies have stand­ing va­can­cies for a range of jobs.

So, what sorts of skills and pro­fes­sions are ac­tu­ally in de­mand?

“I think if you went back five years, the tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing and engineering dis­ci­plines were the big­gest ar­eas of de­mand for for­eign tal­ent in China,” he says. “I think that’s shift­ing more to the ser­vice in­dus­tries, such as bank­ing or fi­nance. The de­mand will def­i­nitely grow in the next five years. The phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try is boom­ing at the mo­ment. I think that will con­tinue. Some of the re­ally tech­ni­cal dis­ci­plines, such as IT, I see a lot of growth in.

“There are lots of va­can­cies and not enough can­di­dates to fill them.”

He urges job seek­ers to do their re­search be­fore com­ing to China and find out whether their skills and ex­pe­ri­ence are ac­tu­ally in de­mand.

Rus­sian- born Alex Far­furnik, chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer for Xi­abo Net­work Tech­nol­ogy, says his com­pany has plenty of jobs go­ing.

Down at the Bei­jing jobs fair, he speaks with plenty of job seek­ers. It’s not find­ing peo­ple that presents a chal­lenge, he says, it’s find­ing the right peo­ple.

“It’s hard to get good tech­nol­ogy peo­ple any­where in the world,” he says. “I want as many as I can get.”

In Shang­hai, Yang Xiong, di­rec­tor of the Youth Re­search Center at the Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sciences, says there is cur­rently a mas­sive skills short­age in the fi­nance sec­tor.

“We have done a sur­vey on the cur­rent num­ber of qual­i­fied peo­ple in fi­nance. We found the re­serve (sur­plus to re­quire­ments) in this field is less than 1 per­cent, which is re­ally a prob­lem for us,” Yang says.

Lance at Hays puts the tal­ent short­age down to China fac­ing stiff com­pe­ti­tion with other Asian fi­nan­cial and in­no­va­tion hubs such as Sin­ga­pore.

That cur­rent tal­ent tus­sle has perks for the job seeker.

“If you find a se­nior bi­ol­o­gist with phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, there are prob­a­bly five or six com­pa­nies that would im­me­di­ately be in­ter­ested in in­ter­view­ing or hir­ing that per­son,” Lance says. “If you were look­ing at an in­dus­try that is grow­ing or ex­pand­ing and the com­pe­ti­tion at the top is re­ally tough, then you do have the flex­i­bil­ity to sort of name your price.

“If you’re look­ing at gen­eral man­ager or vice-pres­i­dent or even up to CEO, pack­ages of 3 mil­lion, 4 mil­lion, 5 mil­lion yuan and above (per an­num) are pos­si­ble. If you’re look­ing at the mid­dle ranks where you maybe have a tech­ni­cal back­ground and man­age­ment func­tion, any­where from 1 mil­lion yuan to 2.5 mil­lion yuan a year is pretty achiev­able.”

For­mer Cal­i­for­nia- based pro­fes­sor Jeff Jolly, 42, says it is pos­si­ble for for­eign­ers to ar­rive in China and grad­u­ally work their way into lu­cra­tive po­si­tions.

In 2010, his first year as a pro­fes­sor at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai, Jolly says he was paid about 72,000 yuan a year.

He now has a sec­ond job as a con­sul­tant for a com­pany that helps Chi­nese stu­dents pre­pare ap­pli­ca­tions for Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties. He now earns up to 1 mil­lion yuan a year.

“If some­one comes here and they can bear with the first year of hav­ing a small salary, I think it pays off,” he says. “I make some­where be­tween 600,000 and 1 mil­lion yuan a year. That’s not un­com­mon. Some of the younger teach­ers at the other uni­ver­si­ties have snagged sim­i­lar (con­sul­tancy) gigs as well. They are on about 400,000 to 800,000 yuan per year. It re­ally takes stay­ing here for a year, get­ting to know peo­ple, mak­ing con­nec­tions. The Chi­nese call it guanxi. It’s not who you are, it’s who you know.”

LI MIN / CHINA DAILY

WANG JING / CHINA DAILY

The Job Fair for For­eign­ers was held in Bei­jing on Nov 16. Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics show there are about 550,000 for­eign­ers work­ing in China.

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