The place to be
Updated: 2013-05-17 09:47
By Todd Balazovic (China Daily)
From hardship posting, China is fast becoming a jobs haven for expatriates
Human resource experts and headhunters are no longer flummoxed by the flurry of applications from foreigners looking for work opportunities in China. Across the country, in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu it is not uncommon to see foreigners outnumbering Chinese at popular shopping destinations and eateries.
Not only is the expatriate community in China booming, but also playing an important role in China's economic transformation and giving wings to China's ambition of being a destination for high-end talent. Expectations and living and working conditions for expatriates have also changed significantly in China over the last few decades.
"There have been two major revolutions in the last 30 years: the Internet and China," says Guillaume Rougier-Brierre, partner in the law firm Gide Loyrette Nouel A.A.R.P.I based in France.
"It's impossible not to use the Internet and impossible not to have a professional experience in China."
HR experts admit that China, for many of the earlier foreign workers, was a tough posting. It was perceived as a remote, exotic place then, reserved for the hardiest employees or for those who were willing to do the job on the back of big pay bonuses.
Rougier-Brierre says he had no hesitation when, in 2006, his firm asked him to take up a posting in China.
"It was obvious to me even then that China was a must in a lawyer's career. For me it was not only a career booster, but also a unique experience. Nowadays everyone should have a China experience of some sort, just like it was necessary many years ago to go to the United States," he says.
"It is one thing reading about the double-digit economic growth in China, it is another to see and experience it first-hand."
Law is not the only industry that is seeing a huge influx of high-caliber candidates from the West to China, many of whom consider it a vital step up the career ladder.
LeonTina Heffernan, who has spent more than a decade working in China's textiles industry, says the spectrum of people traveling East is changing.
"(China is) no longer simply a destination for academics, adventurers and opportunistic traders," she says.
One of the reasons why there is a sea change now is that after the financial crisis of 2008, job opportunities have virtually dried up in major markets like the US and Europe. There have also been huge job losses across a range of industries. It is these and other factors that are propelling the new migration to the East, she says.
"In these times of limited opportunity in the West, China now represents a must-have experience in an Asian finishing school for those who want to differentiate themselves in an increasingly global business world."
Chun Liew, senior associate for Direct HR, one of the leading recruitment companies in China, says the increased focus on China has also been in part due to the fact that it is no longer just a place to buy goods, but also an important destination for selling products.
"China is now an important sourcing and sales destination for most of the big global companies. That means that China is also a crucial market for employees.
"The result has been a steady flow of foreigners who want to work in China," Liew says.
With an increase in professionals looking to get China experience on their CVs, the competition for a limited number of postings has grown dramatically.
According to official figures, about 600,000 foreigners are registered and working in China, compared with 150,000 10 years ago.
"In the past, China was a place for whoever wanted to, or was willing to, go. In some cases it was even a place where people who were not critical to a company's operation would be sent," Liew says.
Rob Dean, founding partner of the employment communications company Oxus Solutions, says people used to assume that China lacked basic amenities. Provided to China Daily
"In some sense it was a posting reserved for those who had a reason to be in China other than for their career. But now, the basic playing field has changed and companies are sending their best performers to China."
Natwest International Personal Banking says that last year more than 63 percent of expatriates were posted to China by their employers, while the remaining 37 percent moved of their own accord in search of better career opportunities.