China's quest for talent

Xu Liyan and Qiu Jing say Beijing is charging ahead with an ambitious plan to nurture talent to meet recruitment shortfalls and help transform its economy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 September, 2012, 3:18am

The world's most populous nation finds itself in the paradoxical position of a talent shortage. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers 2012 CEO survey, more than 60per cent of chief executives in China found it hard to recruit appropriately skilled talent, while a survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences showed that 17.5per cent of 6.6million college graduates in 2011 were jobless six months after graduation.

To remedy this mismatch, China has launched an ambitious plan not only to step up training workers, but also to open doors to overseas talent.

For the past 20 years, the nation's talent strategy has focused on increasing higher-education enrolment, and research and development investment. Enrolment for those aged 18 to 22 has nearly tripled during the past 10 years. And the nation has built an R&D team of more than 1.6million workers. This has contributed to China's competitiveness in some academic research and technology fields, like aerospace and genetics. However, China has been left behind in the business, innovation, culture and social welfare fields.

China is determined to make its transition from the world's manufacturing hub to a global leader in innovation. Talented people are needed in every industry sector, along with entrepreneurs, civil servants, social workers and even cultural leaders. China aims to increase its talent pool from 114million to 180million people by 2020.

To achieve this, the government is striving for a more open system, encouraging co-operation among industries, universities, official agencies and cross- border institutions.

For example, the Ministry of Education has taken steps to reform the higher- education system to meet industry needs. Last year, 140 domestic universities began to offer new programmes devoted to emerging industries, including the internet and alternative energies. Universities also enhanced offerings for professional master's degrees, which emphasise business practice over academic research.

Skilled labour is also indispensable to the industry sector. Plans are under way for 1,200 education facilities - or "talent incubators" - for training technicians to be built in major cities by 2020. In addition, Beijing is to build 1,000 in-house training workshops in companies by 2020, where senior skilled workers can teach newcomers and improve techniques together. China will have 140 million skilled factory workers with official certificates by 2020, according to its development plan, 28per cent of whom will be at technician or senior technician levels.

Meanwhile, China has decided to foster entrepreneurship and help local companies grasp global opportunities. It aims to cultivate 100 strategic entrepreneurs who can lead Chinese firms into the ranks of the world's top 500 companies by 2020. Furthermore, state-run companies are opening doors to global talent. By 2020, half of the executives in state-owned enterprises will be recruited by competitive job postings rather than administrative appointment.

In its pursuit of economic growth, China has begun to realise the value of soft power, as described by Premier Wen Jiabao last year: "The strengths of a country lie not only in its economic power, but also in the qualities of its citizens, the level of cultural development and ethic rules."

In the next 10 years, the government will fund 2,000 leading representatives in philosophy, social science, publishing, culture, art and heritage-protection areas. Meanwhile, more financial support will be provided to students majoring in social science and philosophy to study abroad.

To improve society's well-being, China plans to build a capable team of civil servants and social workers. Higher standards will be imposed on civil-servant hiring. By 2020, more than 85per cent of all government officials will have at least a degree. At the same time, recruiting channels will be widened. For instance, Guangdong announced the selection of about 3,700 civil servants from a pool of migrant workers, rural residents and social workers last year.

Moreover, the government is introducing new measures to attract talent from overseas. China has built more than 160 hi-tech business incubators countrywide, enticing 20,000 Chinese who studied overseas to return and start a business. Another 50 incubators will be added by 2015. Last year, the total number of Chinese students who studied abroad and had returned was 186,200, up nearly 40per cent from 2010.

China is also crafting policies to put out a welcome mat for foreign experts willing to work in China. "This year, China will expend more effort on solving issues concerning the visas and residency of high-level overseas talents … creating favourable policies for them in social insurance, taxation, medical services, their children's education and academic funding, and other areas," said Yin Weimin , the minister of human resources and social security. Under the "1,000 Talent Plan", Beijing will subsidise foreign experts working in China with 1million yuan (HK$1.2million) per person, while those engaged in basic research will be granted up to 5million yuan more in funds. By February, 214 experts from countries like the US and Japan had applied.

China is making significant strides towards nurturing its talent base. Not just China, but the entire world will benefit from an expanded pool of talent.

Despite the government's ambitious plans, though, the foremost challenge is to ensure enough incentives for universities, enterprises and other participants to share costs and risks; the government can only fund a minority of these projects. The emerging industries are still in the early stage of development and can't provide enough job opportunities or attractive compensation for graduates, which may discourage colleges and students from entering those fields.

China - like the US, Europe and Japan - still has a long way to go in matching appropriate talent to secure jobs.

Xu Liyan is a researcher, and Qiu Jing is a research fellow, at Samsung Economic Research Institute in China. The full version of this report can be found in SERI Quarterly. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online.