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China Daily Website

Standing apart from the crowd

Updated: 2014-01-03 12:49
By Joseph Catanzaro and Li Aoxue ( China Daily Africa)

But although it is a tighter, tougher jobs market, Hays and other recruitment agencies have standing vacancies for a range of jobs.

"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," Lance 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, and I think that will continue. Some of the really technical disciplines, like IT, I see a lot of growth in."

While China's economy did take a hit in 2013 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-September period.

But slower growth isn't cited as a factor affecting the employment market for foreigners in China. If anything, experts like Wang believe government reforms to tackle current economic challenges and transform China into an "innovation driven economy" will actually bolster the case for hiring more foreign workers with valuable skills.

Lance says there are lots of vacancies "and not enough candidates to fill them" within those sectors experiencing skills shortages.He urged 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. At the Beijing jobs fair, he speaks with plenty of job seekers. It is 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."

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, and we found the reserve (surplus to current requirements) in this field is less than 1 percent, which is really a problem for us," Yang says.

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

"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 (in terms of wages). If you're looking at general manager or vice-president or even up to CEO, packages of 3 million yuan ($495,000), 4 million and 5 million and above (per year) are possible. If you're looking at the middle ranks, where you maybe have a technical background and management function, anywhere from 1 million to 2.5 million yuan per year is pretty achievable."

Former California-based academic 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 per year. He now has a second job as a consultant for a company that helps Chinese students prepare applications for American universities, and earns up to 1 million per 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 yuan 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 a year.

Lulu Zhou, associate director for the Beijing branch of recruitment company Robert Walters, says there is no simple way to quantify whether the opportunities for foreigners are up or down.

"It all depends on the industry and role," she says.

While local Chinese and those returning from abroad now fill most positions, she says there are still opportunities in roles that require very specific skills - particularly in architecture and design - and in senior management roles.

"When we talk about senior roles, executive positions, about 40 percent of candidates placed are foreigners and about 60 percent Chinese," she says.

Zhou says senior hires require an open mindset and a willingness to learn about Chinese business culture, but she doesn't believe Mandarin is a prerequisite for top positions.

"Language would be a plus, but for senior positions, it's not compulsory," she says.

The makeup of biotechnology firm Novozymes' workforce in China reflects the tough competition for foreigners in a relatively small number of positions.

Michael Christiansen, Asia-Pacific regional president for the Danish company, says they predominately hire Chinese staff for their local operations.

"Out of 1,100 to1,200 employees, we have maybe 10 to 15 that are not Chinese," he says.

Christiansen says this has less to do with any trend away from hiring foreign talent for the company's Chinese operations, and more to do with the growing pool of qualified local talent increasingly available due to greater mobility in the workforce.

However, he concedes foreigners are often desired candidates for senior roles that require a "global outlook", and for a few of the specialist scientific positions.

But even here, the competition is fierce.

"There is also a lot of availability of non-Chinese who have been in the market (in China) for some time," he says.

Despite the increasing emphasis being placed on language skills, Ambre Mundula, a senior consultant with JAC Recruitment, which sources talent for multinationals in China, warns foreign job seekers should not make the mistake of thinking that Mandarin is all they need to get ahead in China. In a big shift from a decade ago, job specific qualifications and experience, are now a must.

"Ten years ago, just the Chinese language was a requirement (to get a job)," she says. "Now, companies don't just require the language skills, they want technical skills, too. If it's a marketing position, they want you to have a marketing background."

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