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Asian Shortage of Skills - Searching For Talents

Jun 20, 2008
In a survey conducted recently, 600 chief executives of multinational companies with businesses across Asia said a lack of qualified staff ranked as their biggest worry in China and South-East Asia. It was their second-biggest concern in Japan after cultural differences and the fourth-biggest in India after problems with infrastructure, bureaucracy and wage inflation. Across almost every industry and sector the situation is not different either.
Old Asia-hands may find it easy to realize why there is such worry. The region's swift economic growth has fished out the pool of existing talent, they would say. But, the education has been a letdown as well. Recent progress in many parts of Asia has been so enormous that it has swiftly changed the type of skills required by businesses. Schools and universities have been found wanting in keeping pace.

This is particularly true for professional staff. Airlines are one example. With rising deregulation, many new carriers are getting established and airlines are offering more services to live up to demand. But, there is an awful scarcity of pilots. According to a training organization, the commercial-pilot training arm of Boeing, India has less than 3,000 pilots today but will require more than 12,000 by 2025. China will need to unearth an average of 2,200 new pilots a year just to keep themselves afloat with the progress in air travel, which implies it will require more than 40,000 pilots by 2025. Meanwhile, with big international airlines training only a few hundred pilots a year, Asian airlines have taken to plundering them, often from each other. Philippine Airlines, for instance, had to give away 75 pilots to overseas airlines during the past three years. China has been trying to persuade pilots from Brazil, among other places.

Hiring Asians who have been educated abroad and bringing them back does not always succeed. They often anticipate to be paid a lot. Some insist on expatriate packages with paid flights back to America or Europe. They may also be unaware about local developments. But, the biggest concern is that their colleagues regularly resent them. This is especially so in China, where one of the respectful names for returning people is hai gui or sea turtles. A similar attitude sometimes appears in India too. Companies realize that the turtles tend to suit best in the finance industry or in privately owned businesses.

With such a gulf between supply and demand in Asia's labor markets, companies will have to improve at hiring good staff and sustaining them. But, as some companies will always be better at this than others, the job-hopping and plundering are forecasted to continue for many years, until education and training gets elevated enough. The aftereffects of that are stark. It will restrict the growth. It has to actually. Which implies that without talented recruiting policies, some firms may result in backtracking their bold Asian growth-plans.
About the Author
Hunt Partners is a high end Executive Search firm providing search and human capital solutions for global and regional clients who require discreet search of top management and board level positions.
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