Talent Acquisition

China: Skill Shortage Meets Talent Surplus

Retention strategies and hiring for future potential are keys to recruiting success in the APAC region.

Christa Elliott

Being that the APAC region is home to nearly 60 per cent of the world’s population, it should be no secret that Asia is a fertile hiring ground. But as with any large and underutilised talent pool, recruiting Asian candidates can come with its own unique set of challenges. This is especially true in China. In the current job market, recruiters may find that job seekers in China have an altogether different set of skills, needs, and job preferences than job seekers further west, or even potential hires in other Asian countries.

Kimberley Hubble, global RPO leader for Hudson, cites the total vastness of the APAC area as a major challenge both for recruiters and companies hired to provide RPO.

“[The] sheer number of countries to be covered in the APAC region and their very different talent challenges [creates a challenge],” she says. “Also, each country has very different talent challenges. For example, in mainland China, talent attraction and retention are both critical challenges. In Japan, retention is not the challenge but attraction of top talent is a challenge. In India, we have lots of applicants to jobs but sifting through hundreds of applicants to find top talent is critical, as is retention.”

Still, talent acquisition trends in China remain a primary focus area for many recruiters due to the amount of untapped talent who live there. The country suffers from a shortage of skilled labor due to their more recent industrialisation and low birth rates. Major demographic changes are also underway, and social media is rapidly changing the recruitment space.

Skills Shortage Means Hiring for Transferrable Skills

Despite dramatic increases in the number of students graduating from Chinese universities over the past five years (nearly 7.5 million in 2015, which is almost eight times the number in 2000), there is an ongoing skills shortage in China’s current market.

Some point to the country’s economic boom and subsequent increase in labor demand, as drivers whilst others believe that the shortcomings of China’s current system of higher education are a contributor – but the bottom line is that recruiters must be willing to either hire applicants who lack some of the necessary skills or search longer for the right applicant.

“The region continues to be a very talent-constrained environment. For every given person applying to a job, there are hundreds of companies looking for the same type of person, and there’s just not enough qualified people. Part of that has to do with the education system, [and] part of it has to do with the economy,” Chong Ng, president of APAC for Futurestep, a Korn Ferry company, says.

Paul Daley, Cielo’s director of Asia Pacific operations, agrees and explains that in this talent-constrained environment, an employer may be looking for an applicant with seven years of experience but instead receives applications from jobseekers with a fraction of the time put in.

“In China, people’s career expectation is that one year of experience in China would be the same as, say, seven years in the U.S. or Europe. You get people with five years of experience wanting to be the next managing director,” he says.

Whilst this may seem like false entitlement on the part of the jobseeker, this attitude is a direct result of the talent deficit and high demand for human capital.

Organisations will need to decide for themselves how flexible they can be about years of experience and how long they can afford to search for fully qualified talent. But experts will stress that looking for applicants with transferrable skills and a willingness to learn could potentially solve this problem.

“Companies need to be investing in programs that accelerate talent development and mobilise individuals where they will gain maximum opportunities to grow their careers,” says Suzie Custerson, Manulife Financial’s regional head of talent acquisition for Asia. “At the same time, rethink how positions have previously been filled in the past and consider leveraging talent more broadly by focusing on transferable skills rather than maintaining a fixed mindset about the level and type of experience required.”

Retention is the Name of the Game

The values that have come to define the Chinese economy and its workers -an emphasis on financial stability and career progression, also largely hold true despite the skill shortage. Thus, the majority of Chinese employees will not only be eager to take on roles that may be outside of their years of experience, they’ll also want to move up quickly through the ranks at their organisation. Without these opportunities for growth and rapid advancement, they are likely to leave and join one of the numerous other companies fighting for top talent.

“In a mature environment like the U.S. or Europe, you’re looking at maybe a 25-year [executive] cycle. So you come out of college at 21, and maybe by 45 you get to the executive level. But in an Asian environment, especially in fast-growing markets like China, India and Indonesia, that cycle is only 15 years,” Ng says.

That is to say that, while it might take three years in the U. S. to be promoted to a supervisory role and another five to become a manager, in China, the expectation is that it will only take four years to get to that managerial role.

It is doubly important then, for employers to prioritise retention in the Chinese market, do what they can to keep their most skilled and qualified workers engaged, and highlight opportunities for advancement in job descriptions.

“In China we know that career progression and professional development are the number one factors to attract and retain high performers,” Hubble says. “As such, when seeking talent in China, employers need to stress the career path and professional development opportunities possible for that role.”

Shifting Demographics

The face of the workforce in East Asia as a whole is rapidly shifting as well. Many developed Asian countries including Japan and South Korea continue to experience declining birth rates, which means that a population crash and depleted workforce is most likely on the horizon.

Although China experienced a 20 per cent increase in its birthrate last year -the direct result of the government relaxing its one-child policy -experts speculate that this will not prevent a population crash and aging population. So what does this mean for the future of APAC recruiting?

“The populations of East Asia and Pacific are aging faster and on a larger scale than any other region in history, which could lead to a steep drop in the size of its workforce,” Nicole Cook, managing director of Australia and New Zealand for PeopleScout in APAC says. “The aging population is primarily a concern for the more developed economies. For example, Japan’s population shrunk by almost one million people in the five years ending in 2015, and China’s working-age population shrank by 4.87 million people last year.”

In other words, the skills shortage and deficit of talent will only get worse as time goes on, and so employers should respond proactively. “With 26.2 percent passive sourcing across all of our APAC clients in all industries – from retail to construction – we are doing a lot of direct sourcing to tackle this challenge head on,” Cook says. She also recommends that companies turn to RPOs for help in attracting new talent and developing solid retention strategies and suggests direct sourcing whenever possible and leveraging social media in recruiting.

The latter suggestion is particularly important considering a 2016 study from ManpowerGroup on global jobseeker preferences found that China’s use of social media in job searches is significantly higher that the global average (43 per cent, compared to a global average of 30 per cent). This is not surprising considering that in 2015, China had an estimated 650 million active social networking users. A recent study from Hays that surveyed jobseekers in five Asian countries also revealed that Chinese jobseekers were more likely to report great success in finding a job via social media than respondents from any other region. (21 per cent of Chinese respondents rated social media as most successful, closely followed by Japan’s respondents at 18 per cent.)

“Whilst the country is very technologically advanced, candidates do not use the standard tools that those in other APAC countries and the West use. For instance, many Western social media sites are banned, as is Google,” Sarah Wong, Managing Director, RPO Operations, APAC for Allegis explains. ” It is integral for talent acquisition strategies to take into account the local market and use the local avenues to find top talent. That means leveraging social media platforms like Weibo, which recently launched a recruitment bot, and WeChat.

Fortune Favours the Local

All of these troubling trends beg the question, “what are Chinese job seekers looking for in an employer, and what can employers do to attract skilled Chinese talent?”

Because job seekers in China have more and more choices in employer, companies will need to work harder to attract talent in the region, In previous decades, Chinese jobseekers showed a preference for the prestige of large Western companies, but over the last few years, this has changed. As the Chinese economy has developed and more and more companies have risen up out of China, the preference has shifted towards home-grown companies.

In fact, a 2016 ranking of the best employers in China, which was conducted by Chinese online recruitment services provider Zhaopin, revealed that local companies dominated the top 30 last year. The winners were selected based on their performance in brand strategy, reputation, organisation structure, employee training, salary and welfare, and working environment. This suggests that whilst nationalism may be a factor in the jobseeker preference for local companies, the trend is more likely the result of Chinese companies offering increasingly competitive benefits packages and starting salaries.


http://vwvw. Woridaffairsjournal. Org/blog/gordon-g-chang/chi na’s-comingdemographic- crash

http://vwvw.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/l848730/chinasjobseekers- think-local- beijings- policy-switch

http://technode.com/2016/12/13/locai-companies-dominate-list-top-30- employers-china-led -tencent/

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