China’s high-tech industry is booming amidst a demonstrated increased capacity for innovation in the IT field.
Despite job market uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global specialist recruitment firm Hays reported that China is more likely to recover quickly when compared to other countries and regions still suffering from the pandemic’s impact. According to its previous report, “The Inside Story of Technology in China”, the job market in the technology sector is likely to experience a considerable rebound as the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
China’s high-tech industry is booming amidst a demonstrated increased capacity for innovation in the IT field, empowered digital economy, and the improved environment for IT development. Companies active in the IT and digital sectors continue to gain momentum in specific target areas including AI, autonomous driving, big data, AR, virtual reality, social e-commerce, online education, digital healthcare, and cloud-based facilities.
China is a world leader in information infrastructure development. In 2021 alone, they rolled out the world’s largest fibre-optic network and 4G network and initially completed the world’s largest 5G network1. According to 2020 data, the added value of core industries in China’s digital economy reached 7.8 per cent of the GDP, with the total digital economy jumping to second place in the world2. In the Global Innovation Index ranking, China soared from 29th place in 2015 to 14th place in 20203. Furthermore, since 2019 China has become the world’s largest source of patent applications4.
High-tech companies and specialised talent are key components to making the construction of a “Digital China” a reality during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. Interest in the high-tech sector is growing among candidates from diverse backgrounds as sci-tech industries continue to be a strong force when other sectors have slowed down.
Exponential growth in digital technology generates huge demand for talent
As China continues to digitalise, more enterprises rely on cloud storage, driving high demand for both network and data security solutions. At the same time, newly introduced policies and legislation have been driving an increased demand for new talent. In particular, implementation of the Cybersecurity Law of the People’s Republic of China in June 2017, the publication of the second version of the draft Personal Information Protection Law and the second draft version of the Data Security Law in April 2021 have been widely interpreted as milestones in regulation of the growing industry. These developments have further increased attention on internal compliance of technology and digital solutions, sparking new job opportunities for professionals with diverse areas of expertise.
In many fields, IT experts have become essential. There is currently a tremendous gap between the demand and supply for talent in specialist areas given the inability of companies to train relevant professionals for these important roles in a short period of time. Edmond Pang, Regional Director of Hays Shanghai and Suzhou, said, “China’s current policies and regulations have put forward clearer requirements for enterprise network security and data protection. With a large shortage of knowledgeable professionals, the future looks promising for experts in the security field.”
As the digital transformation of companies across sectors continues, many observers note that the boundaries between “traditional” companies and internet companies have blurred. Currently, for traditional enterprises, a range of new positions have been created with digitalisation in mind, such as R&D engineers in cloud computing and big data. As for internet companies, there is now a trend of diverse opportunities due to industries re-working their format to be largely online based such as online education or online gaming.
Hays predicts that the digital technology sector will grow exponentially in the future, driven by newly digitalised industries including digital healthcare, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, gaming, etc. There is a strong demand for comprehensive talent that specialises in tech, especially in the areas of cyber security, artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning and imaging algorithms. According to the 2021 Hays Asia Salary Guide, positions like image algorithm engineers, data scientists and talents in AI could experience a 30 per cent salary increase in 2021.
Two-way strategy for international expansion: attract overseas Chinese back home and attract local candidates overseas
In recent years, Chinese technology companies have positively responded to the strategy of “Going Global”, expanding their businesses overseas and establishing branches to cultivate these overseas markets. In the process of going abroad, China’s technology companies have shown a strong demand for seasoned talent with rich experience overseas.
Hays has consulted top-tier overseas candidates to understand the job market in China and assist Chinese companies in recruiting local employees overseas as the rise in prominence of China’s tech companies continues. Edmond indicated that there are two main talent strategies when technology companies are going abroad: firstly, attract overseas Chinese to return to work for a domestic company and secondly, to rely on hiring local talent overseas.
In the first method, domestic high-tech companies must attract top-notch talent from leading international enterprises back to China by showcasing their unique advantages in terms of technology platforms, remuneration packages and career development prospects. Overseas returnees with global backgrounds and systematic training in foreign industries can bring hands-on experiences, an international vision, and fine-tuned skills to their domestic employer.
The second strategy is to attract local talent overseas to work for Chinese companies. With their rich business and technical experience in their home countries, senior professional managers hired locally in an international market can often help Chinese high-tech companies to break into the market easily.
The geographical choices for domestic high-tech companies going abroad are becoming more diverse, ranging from the more traditional path in developed countries to exploring opportunities in emerging markets throughout Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, South America, and Africa. “With 206 offices worldwide, Hays has leveraged its vast global talent pool and local partner network to build up an overseas talent database, that makes finding top talent convenient for Chinese companies no matter where they expand”, said Edmond.
New trends in high-tech empower new talent development strategies
Hays observes a new trend of talent mobility in high-tech sectors that is worth noticing.
First, at a time of rapid expansion, some companies may have problems such as extended working hours or neglecting building a healthy corporate culture, even though they can offer competitive salaries. Currently, job seekers place high importance on work-life balance, with a high demand for suitable corporate culture and career development paths. Therefore, Hays suggests that employers should pay more attention to cultivating a balanced corporate culture, creating an atmosphere that encourages personal and professional development, and building a long-term talent strategy.
Second, more professionals are choosing to move from traditional industries to the technology sector. In the past two years, traditional industries have been hit heavily by uncontrollable factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic. While the high-tech sectors, including internet, life sciences and fintech, have been steadily growing with stronger demand to acquire specialised talent. One example Hays has observed is executives from the retail sector job-hopping to pharmaceutical companies which they view as having more potential for innovation.
Recruitment requirements should adapt to the changing technology industry. Edmond indicates that candidates for management positions may need to cope with stronger competition as employers begin to require managers with a solid technical background in addition to experiences in project management and leadership, especially for mid to senior level positions.
Edmond suggests that job seekers build clear self-awareness, plan ahead for career development, get a better grasp on the changing trends in the industry, and pay more attention to the corporate culture on top of salaries and packages. In addition, hard skills like solid technical skillsets will often be the decisive factor in tech job interviews. Well refined soft skills, on communication and management for example, will be helpful to only those applicants who can demonstrate propensity for a broad vision and innovative mindset.