China pricing itself out of the market for ex-pat IT talent

moneyA lot of the time when you’re battling deadlines or trying to sniff out breaking news stories, there’s not enough opportunity to look beyond the analyst reports, product launches and trade shows to take a more rounded view of the industry.

One of the most interesting things about watching the technology landscape from the vantage point of Hong Kong is how Asian countries are reacting and adapting to life in the shadow of China.

If local IT industries really want to thrive alongside this giant they must have access to a stream of excellent candidates – whether these are home-grown or shipped in from abroad.

I’ve written a few pieces for The Reg Jobs section now about the market for ex-pat IT professionals and while the opportunities for those cushy international reassignment packages are dwindling, there are still some great opportunities to be had if you have the right skills.

The key points to remember:

  • Local language and cultural understanding – language skills being near obligatory for work in mainland China, and ideally experience of working there previously.
  • Flexibility – kind of ties in with cultural understanding, but an ability to absorb pressure and adapt to new ways of working is key, as is any indication you may be willing to be flexible on relocation packages.
  • Good interview technique – sounds basic but employers are getting  more and more picky. You need to do your research on the company and convince them of the above points, and that you’re a good cultural fit for the organisation.
  • Technology know-how – it needs to be broad and deep and in one of the key areas Asian firms are looking for, like cloud or e-commerce.
  • Be a good teacher – the thirst for knowledge, especially in China, is huge so being able to communicate effectively with your team will make you an invaluable asset…until they’ve learnt everything.

China is far from hoovering up all the best foreign IT talent, of course, given the prescriptive language skills which most IT pros have to have to work in the country. It is also being placed increasingly on the back foot thanks to changing standards of living in the PRC, which could benefit places like Hong Kong and Singapore again.

ECA International, which produces data with which firms can work out ex-pat packages, revealed in its latest annual Cost of Living Survey that Beijing and Shanghai are now more expensive to live in the Hong Kong, while Shenzhen and Guangzhou are likely to overtake pretty soon.

A strong currency and high inflation – especially on goods foreigners buy – is making the case for placing candidates in China less compelling.

ECA regional director, Lee Quane, told me that although once you add in accommodation, HK probably tops the Chinese cities again, they are definitely catching up. Considering the higher rate of tax and social security burden in China than say Hong Kong or Singapore, mainland cities may soon prove less palatable destinations for multinationals to send staff to, especially if they can work in virtual teams.

It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out, although as always, if you are a truly indispensable IT pro, a firm will get you at whatever cost.


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