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'Welcoming you to a new career in China'

Updated: 2009-03-09 07:51
By Sun Xiaohua (China Daily)

'Welcoming you to a new career in China'

For American readers of the Wall Street Journal, the quarter-page ad in the November 26 edition may have been a bit unsettling.

"Welcoming You to a New Career in China," it read.

But the ad, paid for by a Beijing-based headhunting firm, was just the opening salvo, as increasing numbers of Chinese companies and municipalities have begun shopping for talent abroad.

Just last week, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) announced it will seek foreign applicants for several senior posts. The State-owned defense contractor hopes to attract experienced managers from overseas as it attempts to compete with Airbus SAS and Boeing.

Late last year, the Shanghai municipal government launched an aggressive head-hunting campaign overseas. In a series of job fairs in December, Chinese banks, universities, and government agencies interviewed more than 4,400 people in London, Chicago, and New York.

Guangzhou has created a $30-million fund to attract overseas financial professionals. Shenzhen, the first Chinese city to open to the West 30 years ago, is considering a recruiting tour of the US this summer.

And Chinese automaker Futian is eyeing laid-off workers in Detroit, hoping to hire about 10 specialists in research and development, production, and sales this year.

China's economic expansion has already drawn thousands of overseas Chinese back from the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Non-Chinese have proven to be a harder sell, however.

"After the initial panic, they tend to think twice about moving to China," said Gong Yu, a financial consultant at Career International Inc, which ran the Journal ad. Initially, eight out of ten respondents showed interest in moving to China, Gong said. Since the US President Barack Obama's $787.2 billion stimulus plan was signed, however, the number has dropped to five in ten, he said.

The salary differential between the US and China is often a major impediment. Americans who have worked in the financial sector for more than a decade generally make between $500,000 and $1 million a year. However, Chinese recruiters on winter recruiting trips to the US and Britain offered a maximum of 1.5 million yuan ($219,000).

"The salary difference cannot be bridged overnight," Gong said. "It is not decided by supply and demand, but by China's generally low income level."

Even if they can persuade Chinese CEOs to offer foreign employees larger salaries than their own, recruiters have an uphill battle.

"Most of the foreigners we see are high-end financial managers or recent college graduates. That's not what we need," said Zhou Bin, human resources manager at China Pacific Insurance (Group) Co Ltd (CPIC).

"Because China's financial system lags behind the West's, we don't have much work for high-end experts, nor do we need college students with no work experience," he added.

Zhou Chen, human resources manager of Orient Securities Co Ltd, agrees. "Our request for credit managers received very little feedback. Most of our applicants are financial derivative traders, which we do not need," he said.

State-controlled companies are less likely to take on foreign talent than the relatively open financial sector.

Jiang Zhigang, a personnel manager for the Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, said although State-owned companies "warmly welcome overseas talents", few foreigners will come to work for them.

"China's working environment, especially in the State-owned companies, has not totally opened up," he said. "For example, in the State-owned companies, both meetings and documents are in Chinese, which is a high threshold for foreigners."

Despite the barriers, recruiters believe building an international team is a necessary, long-term objective, as China becomes increasingly involved in the worldwide economy.

(China Daily 03/09/2009 page6)

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