Finding talent challenging for China tech firms

Tao Sixuan sighed when asked about hiring people for her start-up, Beijing Rose Technology Ltd. “It took a lot longer than I expected, to say the least,” she said, recounting difficulties finding staff to perform basic tasks such as Web design with hosting and back-end support.

“One girl wanted 5,000 renminbi (US$627) per month as a personal assistant–and I had to show her how to use the fax machine,” said Tao, who passed on the interviewee. Someone at that level would normally receive a salary of about 2,000 renminbi per month.

Technology industry employers face a number of problems finding good workers in China, including the spoiled, “Little Emperor,” attitude among young people in many parts of the country, a by-product of the government’s one-child policy.

Raised as only children under China’s population control policy, they are seen as spoiled, lacking any practical experience, and unwilling to endure even basic work-related discomforts such as long commutes or occasional overtime, executives say.

“The attitude is ‘me, me, me, me… and now,'” said Cyrill Eltschinger, chief executive officer of Beijing-based Information Technology United Corp. (I.T. United), a software development outsourcing firm. Eltschinger referred to the attitude of many entry-level employees, who, unlike some of their Western counterparts, couldn’t care less about non-salary benefits like retirement packages.

Other serious issues include a lack of skills and creativity, breaches of business ethics, and a dearth of understanding of how to function in a Western or other type of multi-cultural work environment.

Unlike their parents, who often spent their entire lives at a single employer, regular job changes in China’s tech sector are common enough that spending even two years at one position or company can be seen as too long. Demand for workers is so high that employees regularly seek higher bidders for their services, one reason they change jobs frequently.

Finding workers with basic IT skills is not a big problem for companies in need, but asking them to do more can be difficult.

“If you need someone who understands and can use the software or hardware, that’s no problem,” said Tao. “But if you need them to do something with it on their own, something creative, that’s entirely different.”

Several employers interviewed for this article complained about workers who show up completely unprepared for interviews, who start off by asking questions about what the company does and what the job entails.

“Not so much now, but earlier we got applicants who never looked at our Web site, never Googled us, and came in without the slightest inkling of who we are or what we do,” said Sam Flemming, chief executive officer of Shanghai-based CIC Data LLC, which monitors Internet-based public opinion via bulletin boards and blogs.

Business ethics have also become a major hiring concern, with everything from theft of intellectual property all the way up to more enterprising workers forming their own companies based around their employer’s infrastructure.

One technology executive in Beijing, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a pending legal investigation, told of an employee he just fired this week.

“He had a full-time employment contract with another company while working full-time for us,” said the executive, adding that the man, “registered with our company using his Chinese ID card. He never told us he was a Canadian citizen.”

For foreign companies, hiring workers in China can be particularly difficult due to language and cultural barriers.

Offshore companies often find plenty of talented IT workers in China but face difficulties finding such talented workers who also have excellent English or Japanese communication skills, Eltschinger said. While language skills are improving, hiring people who understand the needs of Western or foreign clients, what he called a “cultural market perspective,” is still difficult, he said.

Eltschinger said retaining people is also a major challenge for small companies. Brand-name corporations carry greater prestige, and therefore give “face” to the people who work for them. As such, smaller firms have a tougher time holding onto employees for periods beyond two years, even with incentives such as advancement and training.

But being a foreign company with a big name can also work against an employer. When one candidate requested a salary four times more than his previous position, Eltschinger asked why he felt he deserved such an increase. “Because you’re a foreign company. You should pay more,” was the reply.

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