The “Made in China 2025” agenda seeks to secure the world’s second largest economy’s status as a global innovation hotspot. The initiative should confirm China’s reboot from the world’s manufacturing workshop to a science and technology crucible.
China’s ability to deliver this digital, manufacturing and service revolution will depend on its capacity to attract, recruit and retain globally mobile talent, both home grown and from overseas.
Beijing is well placed to drive the changes with its already thriving digital sector, world-class universities and as the established base for headquarters of many state- and foreign-owned companies. Expatriates in a recent poll also regard Beijing as the second most appealing city to live in China.
Yet as China’s economy is transforming, so is the picture for global mobility.
Mobility on the move
A number of sources show volumes of inbound assignments to China are falling and have been for a number of years. Our experience and market trends also confirm that more assignees are heading out of China, with key destinations its regional neighbours, the US and Europe.
Meanwhile, cost of living and employer costs are increasing in China as salaries for white-collar jobs escalate and demand for talent grows. Filling the skills gaps is difficult in a buoyant local labour market. China’s newly revised points-based immigration system also means some foreign workers find it more difficult to get clearance for less specialist roles.
The changes bring new solutions, some of which are a growing preference for short-term moves and extended business travel. These deliver their own considerations around accommodation, tax and cultural integration, for example.
Bridging the skills gap
Nevertheless, inbound mobility in China appears to be on a downward trend at a time perhaps when the country and its employers have never needed globally mobile skills more.
In an attempt to increase China’s appeal to people with the talent it needs to deliver on its ambitious goals, authorities have in recent months introduced new procedures designed to smooth the path for highly skilled foreign talent, and encourage the return of highly skilled Chinese nationals from overseas.
China continues to ramp up its efforts in the global war for talent. One pragmatic approach is offering skilled overseas workers the chance to apply for sought-after green cards. A new immigration scheme launched in March has made Beijing’s Zhongguancun Science Park a test bed for the initiative aimed at seeding development in key areas. Start-ups and skilled foreigners employed by Chinese companies can acquire permanent residence in China without the usual qualifying financial investment, for example.
Meeting outbound mobility needs
Of course, it’s not only foreign talent in demand. A key story in Beijing and China more widely is the upswing in volumes of outbound assignments, which is adding skills and deepening expertise among China’s workforce.
The Belt & Road initiative means Chinese companies are venturing in every direction, putting assignees on international pathways in the process.
Chinese acquisitions of companies and start-ups worldwide in the tech, services and commercial sectors – for example, Tencent’s take-over of video game company, Supercell, last year – are also driving increasing outbound mobility to a vast range of destinations.
Again, employers are finding shorter assignments and developmental rotations that appeal to individual aspirations are ways to approach the well-documented challenges of moving people in China with in-demand skills.
As best-selling author, Shaun Rein, remarked at last year’s WERC Shanghai Summit: “Younger Chinese in the slowing market are optimistic. They want to get trained and not just at the China level, but globally. You’re going to have to change you packages, change your training and change your entire way of looking. If you don’t, you’re going to lose them to someone else.”
Whether inbound or outbound, it seems mobility continues to have a key strategic role in the war for talent in China. To talk more about talent mobility, contact Erika.Toomer@sterling.com.