Foreigners in China optimistic about job prospects in 2017

By Chen Ximeng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/3 21:11:26

Recruitment consultancy reports show a positive outlook for foreign employment in 2017. Photo: IC

Recruitment consultancy reports show a positive outlook for foreign employment in 2017. Photo: IC

Michael Evans (pseudonym), a British social media writer at a Chinese media network company in Beijing, was recently approached by a headhunter on LinkedIn. He was offered a social media job in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province.

"I have seen some interesting jobs in the social media field: social media manager, chief marketing officer, digital marketing officer. There is a large number of jobs that require social media experience," said Evans.

Although the job prospects for Westerners in China have been in decline for many years, he said there are still many great opportunities here for non-Chinese with key skills in fields like social media.

The 2017 Asia Salary and Employment Outlook survey released by international recruitment consultancy Michael Page in December states that nearly half or 48 percent of the surveyed companies on the Chinese mainland plan to increase their staff in 2017, and 45 percent expect to offer a 6 to 10 percent salary increase in the next 12 months. The survey interviewed around 1,000 employers from different industries on the mainland.

Andy Bentote, senior managing director at Michael Page in charge of the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, told Metropolitan that despite the rebalancing of the Chinese economy, he is optimistic that hiring trends will remain positive in 2017.

"We see steady levels of recruitment, and China will remain a candidate-driven market where strong candidates are in demand and often receive multiple job offers," said Bentote.

"The industries anticipated for growth in 2017 align with those that currently have global appeal: renewable energy, financial technology, social media, and consumer electronics."

A January 17 global salary survey published by Robert Walters, another international recruitment consultancy, also showed a positive employment outlook brought by the Chinese government's transition to a leading high-tech economy and the resulting accelerated hiring of skilled e-commerce and technology workers.

With more job opportunities in some appealing industries, foreigners interviewed by Metropolitan are also optimistic about employment prospects this year. At the same time, they are also concerned about the potential influence of new policies in China, such as the new work permit policy and the recently loosened policy on work visas for foreign students.

The financial technology, social media, e-commerce and digital sectors are the main areas that will see an increasing demand for workers and salary bumps for foreign professionals, according to experts. Photo: IC

The financial technology, social media, e-commerce and digital sectors are the main areas that will see an increasing demand for workers and salary bumps for foreign professionals, according to experts. Photo: IC

A stable outlook

Evans has been working in social media in China for over 10 years and has witnessed the rapid development of the sector. In his current job, he edits online videos and does social media management. The headhunter offered him a job as a social media manager at a Chinese drone company in Shenzhen.

According to him, he regularly comes across Chinese companies that are desperate to increase their reach overseas, and social media is an important marketing tool for them.

"Social media is all about connecting people. Having English as a native language and an understanding of customer tastes and demands as well as cultural differences in key global markets are highly valuable skills for us," he said.

In the past several years, the slowdown of the Chinese economy has made it difficult for some foreigners to land a job in some industries. Still, some areas have increasing needs and salaries.

As the fruit of the Chinese economy's relative maturity and transformation into a value-added and consumption-led market and the government's "Internet Plus" strategy, the new technology and e-commerce sectors have emerged as the new drivers of growth, according to the Robert Walters survey.

Brett Rose, head of the Shanghai Office of Robert Walters China, told Metropolitan that e-commerce, digital, and financial technology continue to have a high demand for skilled professionals.

"There is a great shortage of experienced people in those areas, particularly those with Internet, digital, e-commerce and online marketing operation skills, and we will still see salary increases in those areas," said Rose.

Bilingual professionals with strong communication skills and commercial acumen will be the strategic focus in hiring in 2017, Matthew Bennett, the managing director of Robert Walters Greater China said.

Regarding salary trends, Rose said that according to their research, salary levels will remain relatively stable in 2017, except for in some high-performing sectors, such as software and Internet, risk and compliance and sales where people who switch jobs expect increases of 15 to 20 percent. E-commerce and digital professionals will also command higher salaries in 2017 due to the shortage of candidates in those areas, he said.

"Generally speaking, salary increases of 30 percent no longer exist. What I think will change is that the big expat packages that used to exist to entice people to move to China are going to decrease," said Rose.

If foreigners want to work in China, they will be paid market rate for the work they do, rather than the inflated salaries they command. There will be less difference between what a foreigner and a local will be paid. The market is maturing in general, Rose said.

"This is not entirely bad. These foreigners are here in China for a good reason; it is good for them to commit for a longer period of time, instead of just making quick money."

A job fair for foreigners in Beijing. Human resource professionals say bilingual candidates with strong communication skills and commercial acumen are highly sought after in the Chinese market. Photo: CFP

A job fair for foreigners in Beijing. Human resource professionals say bilingual candidates with strong communication skills and commercial acumen are highly sought after in the Chinese market. Photo: CFP

New work permit policy concerns

A new pilot work permit policy launched by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), has been in place in Beijing, Shanghai and other selected areas since October.

According to a post on SAFEA's official website, the new policy classifies foreign workers into categories A, B or C based on their profession, level of education, work experience and so forth. On April 1, it will be officially launched in the whole country.

Julian Mintzis, an American and the founder of the Panda Eagle Group, a consultancy firm in Beijing, thinks the job market is stable but that the new work permit and visa regulations might make the job market in China for average or mid-level employees more competitive.

"In general, the new policy plans to limit the number of low-level talent and attract very high-level talent, which will create more competition in many industries for jobs and hiring," said Mintzis.

According to him, a lot also depends on how local governments decide to implement the policy. But, either way, the policy could alter the type of employees that firms in China can hire. "Sometimes non-Chinese candidates are not hired, not because of their interview, experience, education, or qualification, but because of dealing with their situation under the law," he said.

Lancy Chui, senior vice president of ManpowerGroup Greater China, an international recruitment consultancy, said the policy is aimed at encouraging high-level foreign professionals, controlling the number of average ones, and limiting low-level ones. So, employers looking for entry- or low-level employees, will find it more difficult to hire foreigners.

More opportunities for foreign students

When Siti Anuar, a freshman who hails from Malaysia, heard that students with postgraduate degrees from Chinese or overseas universities no longer need work experience to get a work permit in China, she was happy.

She chose to further her studies in Beijing at the University of International Business and Economics in 2015 because China had become more prominent globally and she wanted to see firsthand how China does business.

 "China's economy keeps growing, so it is an advantage for me to grab the opportunity first before others do," said Anuar.

On January 11, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Education jointly issued a guideline, saying that foreign graduates who acquire a master's degree or above at a Chinese university or a renowned foreign university can get a work permit and visa if they fulfill some basic conditions, such as having an academic average of at least 80 or B level.

Previously, foreign students had to have two years' work experience to work in China.

"I think this new policy will help encourage more foreigners to seek employment in China, especially young people like me," said Anuar.

Mintzis thinks there has been an increase in high-level foreign professionals leaving China and an increase in the number of young talent coming to China in recent years.

"It's becoming increasingly common for young talent to use China as a way to either study and/or gain multiple early career experiences before moving on, particularly in cities such as Beijing that are less desirable because of pollution, increasing housing rental, education and family costs."

Evans said he is happy working with his current company and will continue to sharpen his skill set. "Perhaps the biggest challenge for foreign professionals working in China in 2017 is simply competition from other foreigners who have developed a well-rounded skill set," he said.

"In Beijing, for example, there are now Westerners who speak fluent Chinese, who can sing Chinese songs at karaoke events, who know how to make a toast when the baijiu (Chinese white liquor) goes around, and who know the correct and appropriate response to any question about international politics," said Evans.

"If you don't have these skills, you should not be terribly surprised to find that your work is being taken by a person who does."

Newspaper headline: Mostly fair skies ahead


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