China is leading the AI industry globally

Hays is optimistic about the prospects of the China’s AI + healthcare industry

The global recruitment group Hays recently released a 2021 report, which states that China is leading the global AI industry with over 60% of big data experts currently working in China.  With more emerging industry segments and sectors, however, there is now a gap between the supply and demand for talent. In fields enabled by AI technologies – especially AI + healthcare sector – the competition for talent has grown fierce.

The AI + healthcare sector has boomed in the past few years. AI has become a driving force of a new round of industry reforms and innovations. At the recent “2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference Health Summit Forum”, Zhong Nanshan, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that AI and other new-generation information technologies have empowered the medical, healthcare, and public health sectors, while promoting R&D in basic medicine, clinical application, and medical devices globally. The use of AI has also enhanced researcher’s recognition and understanding of diseases.

The deep integration of AI and healthcare has been applied in various industry segments, including public health, hospital management, medical imaging, medical robots, drug discovery, health management, precision medicine, and medical payment. More application scenarios continue to emerge.

According to the “Blue Book of AI + healthcare Industry Development 2020” released by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), China’s AI + healthcare industry has ushered in key development with the support from top-level government, increased capital investment, strong market demand, opportunities brought by the development of relevant industries, emerging technologies, and the expanding group of interdisciplinary talents.

Hays, who boasts significant experience with the Chinese talent market, is optimistic about the prospects of the China’s AI + healthcare industry. With a wealth of experience in recruiting talent for internet and pharmaceutical companies in both the Chinese and international markets, Hays has established a cross-sectoral global talent pool.

Parallel competition: internet giants vs. healthcare companies

As China promulgates policies, such as the planning outline of “Healthy China 2030”, the opinion on developing “Internet + Medical Health” issued by the State Council, and the “Management Standards for Telemedicine Services (Trial)”, the market continues to be more optimistic about the overall integration of AI and the healthcare industry. Internet giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and Byte Dance have significantly increased their investments in this new sector.

Jessica Wang, Managing Director of Hays China, said that Internet companies’ entry into the medical and healthcare market is nothing new. Generally, these companies aim to disrupt industries through applying the internet innovation mindset.  Therefore, companies looking for talent do not require candidates to have extensive experience in the health care industry, but rather focus on examining candidate’s technological capabilities, flexibility of thinking, and their overall potential to fit in with the culture of the company. Internet companies may encounter bottlenecks in development due to a lack of experiences in medical services, pharmaceuticals and the healthcare sector in general. In addition, application scenarios of technologies are expected to improve, and companies are also exploring new profit models. Hays believes that Internet companies’ continuing investment in the healthcare sector is still quite promising, and that the demand for talent remains high.

In contrast, start-ups, traditional medical institutions, and pharmaceutical companies in this specific subdivision often utilize their expertise in the medical field to further explore possibilities of artificial intelligence. For example, in the field of new drug R&D, which is often defined by high costs and long cycles, by fusing top-notch computer science and biochemical technologies, AI drug development has not only become a new hotspot for venture capital, but also enabled many large pharmaceutical companies to increase investment and expand recruitment.

Some subsectors, such as genetic sequencing, medical imaging, new drug development, early cancer research, assisted diagnosis, and next-generation sequencing technology (NGS), are developing rapidly, and leading to a corresponding demand for talents, Jessica commented. Among them, the vast market capacity of medical imaging is attracting many investors and entrepreneurs, and the development of the business is directly linked to the field. In addition, Hays is also optimistic about the future of the medical robotics field, including surgical robots, rehabilitation robots, service robots (transportation robots; disinfection robots), auxiliary robots (nursing robots; intravenous drug dispensing robots) and more. Large hospitals and traditional pharmaceutical companies are utilising Internet and digitalisation to help businesses develop. With a clear focus on technological transformation, there is a large demand for talent in the field of AI, especially in image algorithms and deep learning.

Shortage of cross-sector talents: check for high salary, but higher demand for work-life balance

Different development stages of a company and different levels of positions are key factors impacting the fluctuating salary range for positions in the AI + healthcare sector, but the overall income level is high.  According to the “2021 Hays Asia Salary Guide”, the annual salary of data scientists often falls within the range of RMB 500,000 to 1.2 million. The annual salary of head of data is as high as RMB 1.5-2.2 million, and the maximum annual salary of entry-level AI developers has reached RMB 800,000 in some cases. In addition, the salary system also includes incentives such as stock options as appropriate, which is especially common in start-ups. Competitive salary packages have also attracted a large number of outstanding talents both at home and abroad.

The AI + healthcare field still faces challenges such as insufficient talent reserves, imbalanced talent supply and demand, shortage of talents in emerging cross-sectors.

Because of this, leading domestic companies, industry giants, emerging start-ups, and foreign enterprises have increased their efforts, proposing substantial packages to compete for outstanding talent in the field with a focus on young overseas returnees.

Most candidates tend to choose traditional industries that develop steadily, while emerging cross-border fields, such as AI + healthcare, are still the top choice of only a few job seekers for now, Jessica said frankly. It is recommended that companies selectively adjust their expectations and standards when recruiting, and focus on selecting the most suitable talents, rather than a one-sided pursuit of the “best” talents on paper.

To a certain extent, this emerging field also means that companies will adjust their business scope more frequently, which may be challenging for candidates to make quick adjustments.

For companies, how to determine which candidates can “embrace changes” is no easy task.


Jessica shared that some candidates with impressive academic backgrounds tend to be more persistent in a more decisive direction of projects and more attached to academic research. Some of these candidates are not prepared for frequent changes at work. Hays is committed to helping companies and candidates to locate the best match for each other, which in this case often means finding the candidate who adapts to the rapidly changing environment and has ample room for professional growth.

In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the talent market significantly in China. A large number of overseas talents have returned, and many find it difficult to fit in to the local job market. Start-up companies in the AI + healthcare sector have rapidly expanded their teams with competitive salaries, but many have issues such as long working hours, high intensity, inflexible working models, and no clearly defined corporate culture. These factors can cause a reverse culture shock to overseas returnees.

Nowadays, more and more candidates, including overseas returnees, value a work-life balance. Previously, salary and benefits weighed more when making decisions. Employees now have stronger demand for a well-rounded corporate culture, flexible working model, and smooth career development paths. Therefore, Hays suggests that companies should pay more attention to developing a clear corporate culture, building an ever-learning enterprise, and forming a talent development strategy to achieve sustainable development for talents.

What kind of talent is most needed in this industry?

Who is the ideal employee for AI + healthcare companies? Hays’ report, “The Inside Story of Technology in China” 2021, identified that companies favour young, highly educated and experienced professionals.

First, as the AI + healthcare industry is a relatively new field, the founding team of start-up companies is usually young, so they also often prefer younger candidates with either with a master’s degree and 1-3 years of working experience or a candidate that recently graduated with their PhD. According to Hays’ statistics, there is a high demand for algorithm engineers and data scientists with working experience of 0-5 years. With the industry’s rapid development and ongoing evolution of technology, large companies believe that young people are more likely to grasp the pulse of technological progress and grow into suitable talent needed by the company.

Second, companies value outstanding education backgrounds. The industry has strict requirements on the academic background of candidates, which usually require a master’s or PhD degree from top domestic universities or well-known overseas universities.

Third, candidates with experience in deep learning, machine learning and other strong artificial intelligence projects, are more competitive when applying for jobs and more sought after because of their unique skillsets.

Furthermore, companies often look for candidates able to demonstrate excellent “soft skills,” which include communication skills, leadership, and the courage and flexibility to embrace change.

Some young candidates in the field of AI + healthcare who lack professional experience tend to be less confident and more easily influenced by their peers. Jessica recommends that these candidates keep a positive and open-minded approach to their work, take initiative to embrace changes in the industry, and maintain habits of continuous learning. It is important for these candidates to be brave during the interview process and communicate frankly with the interviewer without excessive profile packaging. At the same time, Jessica suggests that all candidates shape themselves into irreplaceable employees by pursuing quality educational and work experiences while also developing their soft skills in communication, creativity, and adaptability.


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