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
government has sent a delegation of government
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Schwarz is an American freelance writer and
corporate trainer based in Shanghai.