Populous China can still have labor shortage

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One of China’s assets is the country’s huge population, although most workers are insufficiently prepared to perform jobs necessary to shift from manufacturing into services and research-based industries. Education is emphasized; large numbers of new graduates are being produced. China will graduate 3.1 million university graduates this year compared with 1.3 million in the United States. The question is graduate quality and capacity to perform the needed work.

“Few of China’s vast numbers of graduates are capable of working successfully in the services-export sector,” says Andrew Grant, director in McKinsey’s Shanghai office and author of a report recently released by the consulting firm. “Few of China’s vast numbers of graduates are capable of working successfully in the services-export sector. The universities have a theoretical, text-book, fact-based, learn-from-the-master approach,” he said.

There is also insufficient emphasis on conversational skills in the teaching of English.

The report asserts that a shortage of well-trained graduates could hinder growth of the Chinese economy and prevent development of more sophisticated industries.

Lack of practical skills and poor English-speaking proficiency suggests difficulty developing industries such as information technology outsourcing that has brought jobs to India over the past decade. India and China compete to attract jobs from developed countries.

McKinsey’s research is based on interviews with 83 human resources executives who concluded that fewer than 10 percent of graduates in China have the skills to work for a foreign company, compared with 25 percent of graduates in India.

The type of education many Chinese students receive does not give them the practical and team-work skills that global companies need.

According to McKinsey, China produces about 600,000 new engineers every year, nine times as many as the United States. However, of the pool of 1.6 million young engineers in the country, only about 160,000 have practical and language skills to work for a multinational. Multinational corporations also face fierce competition from local companies for employees, given the strong expansion of the Chinese economy.

The study said China would need 75,000 managers with some form of global experience in a decade. It currently has only about 5,000 such people.

From “Herman Trend Alert,” by Roger Herman and Joyce Gioia, strategic business futurists, copyright 2005. www.hermangroup.com.