Home / China / Top Stories

Talent hunt goes overseas

By Joseph Catanzaro and Hou Liqiang | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2013-12-13 09:34

Talent hunt goes overseas

Anders Glasdam Axelsen has worked as a business innovation director for Danish biotech firm Novozymes in China for more than five years and will possibly be moved back to the company's head office. Provided to China Daily

Global moves of Chinese firms trigger demand for professionals with expertise in local markets

Chinese companies will employ more foreigners abroad in a bid to boost local expertise in an increasing number of overseas operations.

The anticipated jobs boom, which corporate heavyweights and officials say is already beginning to happen on a modest scale, is expected to pick up pace as overseas investment increases in line with the government's global business strategy.

Market experts say Chinese companies are already experiencing a shortage of qualified local candidates for middle and senior management roles in Africa and are beginning to realize the benefits of employing key personnel in the United States. The likelihood of greater investment in the European Union after the EU-China Summit held last month in Beijing is also expected to gradually increase demand for talent there, too.

The catch, officials and employers say, is that generally speaking only those foreigners who have experience and knowledge of both their local market and China will be in line to benefit from the impending jobs boom.

Zhong Yanguang is the deputy director of the Information Research Center of International Talent, which operates under the government agency responsible for overseeing foreign employment in China. He says Chinese companies are increasingly coming to realize they need more local expertise in new markets.

"If a company wants to expand their market in a foreign country, they have to know the local culture," he says. "China has urged private companies to go abroad. However, we have more companies that fail in overseas moves than those that are successful. Talent plays a key role for companies going abroad, especially foreign talent."

But Zhong says China is specifically looking for candidates who can act as a bridge between markets and cultures.

"If a Chinese company hires a local person abroad, they may not know Chinese culture and the business etiquette," he says. "A person who has studied or worked in China can better play a role as a bridge.

"Obviously, the need for these sort of people is on the rise."

Speaking at the Job Fair for Foreigners in Beijing last month, Zhong says clothing giant HOdo Group provides a good example of the new employment model.

"When HOdo Group founded their office in London, they hired a British employee here at the annual job fair. He lived in China for more than five years and was sent back to Britain to work as the company's general manager there. The company said its British employee did a very good job, and exceeded its expectations."

Zhong says his department, the organizer of the job fair, has been asked by HOdo to help repeat that successful experiment in the US.

"Now, HOdo is asking us to find a US citizen to work for them in Los Angeles," he says.

At the job fair, a host of companies were seen canvassing for the right kind of talent to employ in their overseas operations.

Runh Power Corp was scouting around for sales managers for Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Hentong Optic-Electric Co based in Jiangsu province wanted systems engineers to work in Africa, South-East Asia and the Middle East. China Hasan International Holdings based in Beijing was after senior finance managers and administrative directors for operations in Saudi Arabia and Angola.

Zhang Ce, human resources supervisor for Qingdao Hanhe Cable Co Ltd, says his company is currently hiring foreigners to work in Africa because they can "communicate well with the local people".

"People from these destination countries are the best choice," he says. "But they should have experience in China. This is very important. We judge whether they have enough experience (for the job) through their Chinese level of experience."

Douean Gut-Serge, 40, from Cote D'Ivoire, is currently completing his masters at Tsinghua University in an effort to land a role in marketing or finance with a Chinese company.

He says depending on the pay and conditions, he would consider returning to Africa to work for a Chinese company there.

"I think it's a very good strategy," he says. "China needs to go to Africa, but it's good to go there with people from Africa, too. It's a good way to improve business in Africa, because they are people who know the culture and the business practices in Africa."

It's not just China that wants foreign employees that have China experience under their belt. Multinationals and foreign companies are also jumping on the bandwagon.

Michael Christiansen, Asia-Pacific regional president for Danish biotechnology firm Novozymes, says his company predominately hires Chinese employees for their local operations.

But one area where Christiansen anticipates growth in employment opportunities for foreigners in China - and conversely for Chinese in the West - is in the tendency for companies to place individuals with experience of multiple markets in "ambassador roles".

"We have had such positions before and we are starting to do that more and more," he says.

Denmark-born Anders Glasdam Axelsen, 35, has worked as a business innovation director for Novozymes in China for more than five years. Next year, he expects to be moved back to the company's head office in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, where he will use his experience and knowledge of China to great effect.

"I will probably relocate to Denmark next year and take the knowledge I've gained over five years back to headquarters," he says. "I will take back an insight into how to do business in China, and that knowledge will be extremely valuable. In headquarters, China is often surrounded by a big question mark."

He believes a new jobs market for foreigners will open up in China, too.

"Where I think this is going, is that it would create a new market for foreigners looking for jobs in China, where some of these companies going abroad need the insights in their headquarters about foreign markets," he says. "I think this will create completely new employment opportunities for foreigners in Beijing and Shanghai."

Axelsen says globalization will be a two-way street in terms of opportunities, with Chinese workers who have experience with foreign markets just as likely to reap rewards. He says at Novozymes, taking steps to provide local Chinese employees with more of a global perspective is already common practice.

"We send some of our local talent to headquarters (in Denmark) every year, to expose them and build on their global profile. We are very active in upgrading, if you like, our Chinese graduates and the new talent we recruit from the schools in Shanghai and Beijing."

Xun Yannian, vice-chief economist and manager of human resources for Zhuzhou Times New Material Technology Co Ltd, says his high-tech company is expanding and needs the right type of foreign talent to jump aboard.

"Our company is broadening our overseas markets, mainly in Europe, Russia and the North and South Americas," he says.

"The people we need should have a good professional background, a master's degree from a recognized university, preferably be younger than 35, and should have studied, lived or worked in China. Those who have a basic command of Mandarin are preferred. These sorts of people will know the culture, policies, laws and customs of their homeland as well as Chinese culture, laws and customs."

Xun says the company's policy is to have these foreign employees work in China for about three years before reassigning them to work in one of their overseas subsidiaries where "they will take a lead role".

"Now, we need people from Britain, US, France, Germany, Brazil and Spain."

The future composition of the workforce for Chinese companies abroad is clear, Xun says. "We will gradually employ mainly local people."

Contact the writers through

Editor's picks
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349