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Hunt is on for China experts

Updated: 2013-12-16 01:06
By Joseph Catanzaro and Hou Liqiang ( China Daily)

Global moves of mainland firms trigger demand for specialist knowledge.

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."

"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."

"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.

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 experiences and knowledge of China to great effect. "I will probably relocate to do business in China and that knowledge will be extremely valuable. In headquarters, China is often surrounded by a big question mark.

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