General labor shortage hits China

Updated: 2013-04-10 16:17

By Mao Jing (

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Recruitment for general laborers has become tight for factories in East China’s coastal areas, according to a report by Economic Information Daily.

Visits to industrial parks in Shanghai and recruitment sites in Baoshan, Jiading and Zhabei district found that the market demand for skilled workers can be satisfied after the Spring Festival, but it is very difficult to get general laborers.

“We need about 20 workers, and the salary we offer is quite competitive even for low-level workers. Not until the recruitment is half through, we have got all the technical workers we need, while over half of the general workers we need are still lacking,” said Jin Tao from the Human Resources Department of Shanghai Shuanggang Warehouse Co. “Low requirements in skills and harder work for assembly-line positions make it less attractive to the new generation of migrant workers.”

Demand for proficient workers at production lines is highest for enterprises, according to a survey by local labor and human resource departments.

“In order to get people, companies had to give intermediaries 500 yuan in fees every time they introduced a worker,” said Xu Jiangao, director of labor and social security center at Shanghai Xinzhuang Industrial Park.

New generations of migrant workers in pursuit of decent employment, the narrowing wage gap between east coast and the central and west regions, and the soaring commodity prices on the east coast all contribute to recruitment difficulties. 

Compared with the first generation of migrant workers, employment expectations of the new generation have increased. In addition to remuneration, they pay more attention to the quality of employment, life experience and the realization of life values.

Wang Yong, of Guizhou, who came to Shanghai, wants to find a job that is technological, challenging and promising. “My first choice is administration work, and then technological work. General workers have no prospect for my career, I won’t be such a worker anymore.”

Due to the higher cost of living in economically developed areas, performance ratio of income and expenditure compared to the central and western regions seems lower, which makes it less attractive to low-skilled workers.

In addition, because of the higher level of social security in developed areas, labor cost is actually higher, which makes it difficult for some companies to give raises to general workers.

Zeng Xiangquan, dean of the School of Labor and Human Resources at Renmin University of China, said that the Lewis turning point has come to China’s labor market.

The Lewis turning point is a concept by economist William Arthur Lewis. After surplus rural labor transfer is completed, the employment population will not be able to keep up with labor demand.

According to estimates, 16- to 24-year-old youth labor in China will decrease from 120 million in 2006 to 60 million in 2020, and the “golden” working population of 25 to 55 would fall significantly starting in 2015, which determines the labor market, especially the low-end labor market.

Experts believe that, after the Lewis turning point, China's demographic dividend will gradually subside, and structural imbalance of the labor market will further be highlighted.

It will effectively increase the labor supply if the country can lower the household registration threshold and provide the same health care, pension and children’s education to migrant workers, said Cai Fang, director of the Institute of Population and Labor Economics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

As for the demand for "decent employment" by migrant workers, the government should promote concepts and values for different professions and reduce unnecessary labor mismatches, said Zhao Dejian, who is in charge of the Joint Meeting Office of Shanghai Migrant Workers.