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    China Business
     Sep 14, 2006
Shanghai searches for US talent
By Brian Schwarz

SHANGHAI - With China's impressive economic development, growing concerns about the short supply of talent and skilled labor are prompting organizations, both public and private, to try new recruiting methods. Government officials in Shanghai, for example, are traveling in North America hoping to fill 2,000 job vacancies in this commercial metropolis of China.

According to state-run media reports, the Shanghai municipal government has sent a delegation of government officials and



business and educational leaders to hold job fairs in New York, San Francisco and Toronto from September 9-16 in an effort to attract expatriates and overseas Chinese professionals to work in the city.

The delegation is offering expatriates or returning overseas Chinese a package of incentives. If they sign a work contract with a local employer, the new employees will be able to apply for a temporary Shanghai residency card, which entitles them to the same social benefits that locals receive, including schooling for their children.

The traveling group, which comprises 27 companies and institutes, includes large state-owned enterprises, such as Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp and Shanghai Electric, and educational and research institutes such as Tongji University and East China Normal University.

The trip to North America is just the latest development of the local government program that began in 2003 to attract about 10,000 overseas professionals to work in the city every two to three years.

"Compared with sporadic online recruitment, holding job fairs where high-end overseas professionals are located is a more direct and efficient solution to quench Shanghai's thirst for talent," Huang Weimao, director of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau's international exchange division, was quoted by the Shanghai Daily as saying.

There are signs the effort is paying off. The first round brought 10,203 overseas Chinese to the city through November. And that number is expected to grow as the bureau receives an average 600 work-permit registrations by overseas professionals every month since the second round of the latest program started last December.

The city has already reached this year's target of attracting 5,000 overseas professionals, according to Huang. Compared with other mainland China cities, Shanghai has issued the largest number of permanent-residency permits for foreigners. Since 2004, some 200 people have been granted the Chinese equivalent of the US "green card".

Searching for sea turtles
In a clever play on words, returned overseas Chinese are called haigui in Mandarin, which sounds the same as "sea turtle(s)". Like migrating turtles, they return home to seek more job opportunities. Following this analogy, domestically grown professionals are called tubei or "local (freshwater soft-shelled) turtle(s)".

In many ways, Polo Zhang is typical of the type of sea turtles the Shanghai delegation is searching for.

As a native of Shanghai, the 26-year-old recently returned to his home town after completing an undergraduate business program at the University of Greenwich in London. Confident about his future, he intends to take over his family's growing retail-store business in the next few years.

Lured by government-sponsored incentives, more than 190,000 sea turtles like Zhang, many from the US, had returned to work in China by the end of 2005, according to the Ministry of Education.

An Asian thirst for talent
With its soaring labor costs and real-estate prices, Shanghai is trying to make itself more attractive to overseas professionals and potential investors. But it faces competition.

Neighboring Suzhou was recently ranked China's most attractive city for foreign investors, in large part because of its lower living costs and beautiful gardens. Shanghai came in second, while Beijing ranked seventh.

Shanghai also struggles against other Asian cities. In April, Singapore was rated the most favorable place in the world for Asians to live, according to a survey by ECA International, the world's largest membership organization for international human-resources professionals.

While Taipei and Macau earned the 60th and 64th spots, respectively, Shanghai came in 89th. Even with this comparatively low ranking, Shanghai was considered the best mainland Chinese city for Asians to live in, beating Beijing because of its more favorable climate and lower levels of air pollution.

Local governments in other cities are also taking action. Promoting itself as "Asia's World City", Hong Kong recently introduced a Quality Migrant Scheme, a program that allows up to 1,000 "top-notch" professionals from the mainland and overseas to live in Hong Kong for a trial period of one year before deciding upon a job. In the ECA survey, Hong Kong's ranking fell sharply because of worsening air pollution - from 20th to 32nd place.

Despite Shanghai's efforts to attract managerial talent, China faces a huge shortage of skilled labor in the years to come. Estimates from a McKinsey Global Institute study this year noted that Chinese companies trying to expand abroad will need up to 75,000 internationally experienced leaders if they want to continue to grow over the next 10-15 years. Currently, there are only 3,000-5,000 such men and women in the whole country.

Unfortunately, many recent university students on the mainland do not have the right skills or experience to fill the gap. Millions of Chinese will face serious employment difficulties during the next year, with as many as 60% of new university graduates facing unemployment, according to reports by state-run media.

At the same time, more rural migrants who man China's export machine are deciding to stay home. According to a survey late last year of mostly labor-intensive firms in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in Guangdong province, there was an estimated shortage of 100,000 workers. The shortage in Dongguan, another booming Guangdong city in the Pearl River Delta, was even more severe.

Labor turnover is approaching 50% in many low-tech industries, according to the Institute of Contemporary Observation. Managers have reportedly been forced to increase wages and improve working conditions to attract and keep their best workers.

Brian Schwarz is an American freelance writer and corporate trainer based in Shanghai.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)


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