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China's Job Market Sees a Reversal of Brain Drain
A surprising reversal is gathering force in China's job markets as a growing number of senior management level personnel are quitting well-paid positions in foreign-funded business to cozy up to domestic companies.

Analysts say it could be the first step of a turn-around from the brain drain of the past decade when highly skilled Chinese people were scrambling for a niche in multinational firms.

The defections come as the managers feel their careers are hitting a wall in foreign-invested businesses and that a return to domestic companies can give them better access to top positions on the corporate ladder.

"In foreign firms, few of these Chinese managerial staff can expect to be elevated to top positions in foreign companies' China operations, not to mention their slim chances of making it to the board of directors in these companies' headquarters," said Wang Changjiang, manager of Beijing-based Haozhu Headhunting Company.

Cultural differences and the language barrier make it hard for them to convey their ideas to upper-level managers abroad, limiting their chances of being promoted to their potential.

Many of them have returned to large profit-making State-owned firms with extensive overseas markets, while others have gone to private start-up firms on the Internet or taken jobs in information technology or investment consulting.

Zhou Jie, who is in charge of a multinational firm's China business, has decided to follow suit.

He just came back from a trip to Guangzhou in South China, where he met with managers of a large State-owned shareholding firm.

Zhou said he has accepted the offer to take on the job as chief assistant to the firm's president and will be responsible for international market expansion.

This kind of situation will give a real boost to domestic firms that have been starved for skilled management level people.

"High-level Chinese personnel from foreign firms can be just what the doctor ordered, as they bring to Chinese firms the knowledge and experience gained working in their former positions," said Huang Jian, a job market consultant in Beijing.

Adding fuel to the trend is that domestic firms are closing the economic gap with their foreign peers.

"Many profit-making Chinese firms can now pay salaries that are as high as those offered by foreign firms, a situation that was unthinkable five years ago," said Wang Jian, an analyst with Shanghai-based 51job.com, an online recruitment company.

Incentives such as housing, a car, stock options, share dividends and other benefits are also becoming big attractions, she added.

But the idea of heading back to domestic firms is still scorned by low-ranking employees in foreign-funded businesses and college students entering the job market, who place salary as their top concern.

"I prefer the creative and free work style in foreign firms and the working relationship is more relaxed than in domestic firms," said Liu, a senior at Peking University.

Liu also said many State-owned firms are still performing more like administrative organs.

That is what Tong Guixin worries about. Tong used to work for a US firm. But Tong has just taken a job with a State-owned firm and is worried that his work style formed in a foreign-funded business may distance him from his subordinates.

"I am the lone horse leading a big team, and I have to deal with quite a complicated relationship in the office," said Tong.

"If I cannot get along well with them, I'm toast," he added in a light tone.

(China Daily April 4, 2002)

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