I recently read an interesting article about Chinese who study abroad and return to China to find work. Last year registered 430,000 graduates who returned home with degrees but alas, discovered that the job market had changed dramatically. Ten years ago, a foreign degree was highly valued and it was easy to get job offers even before the students returned. Nowadays, the competition has become fierce as more and more families opt to spend the money ($60,000 for a one year master’s degree abroad as opposed to a two-year master’s degree inside China for $3,000) and hope that the investment will pay off.
The article rang true with me as I am seeing the changes in the Chinese job market. Not only has it changed for the local Chinese, it has changed significantly for incoming expats as well. When I first arrived in China in 2004, I didn’t speak any mandarin and my diploma was not from any prestigious college but I was still accepted and valued for my knowledge and experience. Nowadays, most expats coming to find work in China must speak mandarin, have a master’s degree and there is a strong preference that they have previous international experience outside their home country. I would never have fulfilled those criterion if I was looking to come to China for work these days :o(
I can understand both sides of the conundrum. The Chinese are getting better educated and the government want to make sure graduates can secure suitable employment. Factories no longer appeal to many youths even though high salaries are offered for engineers and technicians. Status, glamour and prestige all play a role in attracting graduates. It’s not just about the money anymore.
However, education plays only one part, the other part is experience; creativity, management skills, people skills, problem-solving... or in other words, life skills. This is what is still lacking in Chinese education and why so many expats are able to fill that gap in China. It will take another generation or so but soon that gap will be successfully filled by China’s own people and the ‘foreign expert’ will no longer be needed.