China emerges as new job frontier for West's youth
Ng Yuk-hang in London
As Western economies stagnate and China's continues to grow, students in Europe and the United States are increasingly looking eastwards for internships and placements.
Scant opportunities at home have driven more and more students to China and Asia-Pacific countries where they can brighten up their resumes, according to youth group AIESEC and the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE).
The Oxford chapter of AIESEC alone sent 70 students to China last year, most of whom taught English and were on short-term, paid programmes, said Agnieszka Fal, a chapter leader.
'China is one of the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] countries and is increasingly important both in economic and political terms, while at the same time remains an exotic place. All these are motivations for students,' said Fal.
'There is a significant demand for English-speaking students. Thus, UK students can find convenient, interesting and paid internships quite easily.'
AIESEC sent 5,920 interns to Asia-Pacific destinations last year, three times the number it sent between 2008 and 2009. The Netherlands-based group attributes the surge to an increase in available jobs in development and charity sectors.
'I have been offered countless jobs in China. This demonstrates just how much opportunity there is,' said Ramsay Kerr, 23, who worked for an education agency in Ningbo and recently founded his own firm.
'From what I see happening to my friends over here in London, I know that there simply aren't the same opportunities over here at the moment,' he said.
The number of unemployed British people aged 16 to 24 hit a record 1.02 million last month, the UK Office for National Statistics said. The rise in youth unemployment helped drive the national jobless rate to 8.3 per cent - the highest since 1996.
In the United States, 18.6 million of those aged 16 to 24 are jobless, while the general unemployment rate was higher than Britain's at 8.6 per cent last month.
With Western economies in turmoil due to the euro-zone debt crisis and a slowdown in the US economy, Edward Pearce, head of a firm that facilitates internships for Western students in China, said it was easy to understand the East's appeal.
'China is a fast-growing country, whereas unemployment has become common in Western economies. To make themselves competitive, [Western] students are trying to equip themselves with a better understanding of China,' he said.
Applicants typically pay GBP2,600 (HK$32,500) for a month-long internship and language programme. While it is not new for these students to prefer studying abroad - there are 3,300 British students currently studying in China alone, according to the British Council - they are looking to Asia for work experience as well, Pearce says.
Stephanie Edwards, 21, who was an intern at a British law firm in Hong Kong last year, said: 'I think employers want people with experience both in China and the West.'
Abigail Hird, 28, who landed an internship in Harbin through IAESTE, said: 'I have heard that there is a need for business leaders in China, and that Western graduates may be more suited to these positions. This is something I would be interested in.'
The language barrier has also become less of an issue for Western hires. Some Chinese employers like James Bian of a Shanghai-based light bulb company preferring foreign interns for their 'broader horizons' even though they are not fluent in Putonghua.
Bian said foreign interns at his firm were usually given tasks that did not require Chinese-language skills.
But others like Jason Bedford, senior manager of financial service at KPMG China, said the ability to read Chinese was an essential skill needed by its foreign employees and interns.
'We need this skill especially in auditing, as more of our working papers are now in Chinese. We prefer people to have university-level Chinese skills,' he said.
The number of jobs the US has lost to China this year alone, mostly in manufacturing, according to the Economic Policy Institute