Labour trends in China

1 October 2018
By Terry Shen (MCom '99)
Overseeing the operations of more than 150 recruiters in seven offices across mainland China, Terry Shen meets some of the top talent impacting their industries and has a front-row seat to watch the country transform.
Headshot of Terry Shen

What are the key labour trends in China right now? Are there any ‘hot’ industries? 

In terms of labour trends, there has been a huge movement of talent from multinational corporations to Chinese local champions. Ten years ago, large foreign companies like GE, Siemens and P&G would usually have the first pick of top students from China’s best universities. But over the past three to five years, we have seen Chinese high‑tech giants such as Tencent, Alibaba and Huawei become the most desired companies for these young graduates.

Similar movements are also evident for experienced managers and senior executives who have been trained in multinational companies but leave their comfortable posts to join up‑and‑coming local companies.

In terms of career opportunities, some of the hottest industries now are health care, automotive (particularly in the electric vehicle space), AI, the Internet of Things, Blockchain and cryptocurrency.

What makes the labour market in China unique?

The sheer size and speed of the changes that are happening around us.

Size has two dimensions: the size of the market and the size of talent pool.

It is estimated that 6.8 million university students graduated in 2016 alone, and this number is growing every year. Wherever there is an industry that has become ‘hot’, there is a huge demand for top talent and numerous positions opening up over a short period of time.

On the other hand, there is always a tidal wave of people trying to move towards that industry by acquiring new knowledge. The latest example is that in a matter of weeks in early 2018, almost all our clients within the internet sector were asking us to find talent in Blockchain and cryptocurrency. There have been countless seminars and forums to share in and learn about this new technology. Some city governments have even set up special industry parks to incubate Blockchain startups.

Speed of change refers to the fast movement of talent. People in China spend much less time on a job than those in Australia, Europe and the United States. One job a year is not uncommon. This is particularly true in ‘hot’ industries because of the explosive growth of the numbers and size of companies in those sectors.

Do you have any predictions for the future of work?

I believe we are at the dawn of the technology breakthrough that will have seismic impact on our lives. Anything to do with technology in emerging industries, work related to human experience and creativity will have high prominence in the future.

Unfortunately, it is very possible that low level accountants, doctors, lawyers and even recruiters like myself may be replaced by automated machines in the not‑so‑distant future. We need to make sure we are prepared for this reality.

Are there any particular skills that employers are looking for?

I see two main skill areas that employers are really looking for: people skills and learning abilities. People skills include client relationship management, professional communication, active listening, adaptability, resilience, critical thinking, problem‑solving, and the ability to work effectively across cultures and borders.

Learning abilities involve open-mindedness, willingness and ability to reskill and upskill 
(and to unlearn outdated ideas and processes), and a capacity for lifelong learning.

Taking all of this into account, what advice would you give to our graduates about how to future‑proof their career?

Embrace the changes and never stop learning.

Written by Terry Shen (MCom '99), Managing Director, Atomic Recruitment China