Chinese research labs have long had difficulty recruiting qualified workers to perform necessary research and development, and its corporations struggle to find competent managers. The situation will likely get worse as China’s high-tech industries grow and it increases its national R&D spending from the present 1.62 percent of GDP, according to the Chinese government, to the planned 2.5 percent by 2020. China’s President Hu Jintao, in May 2010, declared talent development a national priority in order to fill the void. The goal is to dramatically increase the education level of China’s workforce and to build an innovation economy.
China has launched several high-priority programs to encourage skilled Chinese to return home — all in an effort to meet the country’s pressing talent demands. One of these programs is the “Thousand Foreign Talents Program.” The program’s goal is to bring 2,000 experienced engineers, scientists, and other experts of Chinese origin back from the West. The government also announced that it aims to cultivate 100 “strategic entrepreneurs” who can lead Chinese firms getting into the ranks of the world’s top 500 companies.
Both efforts are running ahead of target according to Dr. Huiyao Wang, the Director General of the Center for China and Globalization and an advisor to the Chinese government. China had recruited more than 1,500 “high quality talents,” according to Wang, and 300 returnees had been enrolled in management training courses by August 2011. The courses were conducted by senior ministers. These individuals, while re-learning how to operate successfully within the Chinese system, are expected to serve as a critical catalyst in transforming China’s innovation environment in ways that will enhance the country’s competitive edge across a range of key, strategic industries.
China is getting more ambitious, based on the initial recruitment successes of the returnee program.
The Chinese government invited me to attend the International Conference on the “Exchange of Talent” held in Shenzhen on Nov. 5. Vice Premier, Zhang Dejiang launched China’s “Thousand Foreign Talents Program,” which, for the first time, opens China’s doors to skilled foreigners to secure long-term employment in China. The Chinese government announced that it will allow foreign nationals to take senior roles in science and technology sectors and state-owned enterprises. They will also pay foreigners salaries equal to what they can earn at top paying jobs in America. And the government announced that it intends to offer permanent resident-type visas to foreign entrepreneurs.
This announcement was front-page news in China, and its importance should not be underestimated in the U.S. where these developments were not widely covered. These programs, which were announced with amazing fanfare, represent a significant break from the traditional “use Chinese” policies and a greater openness to the outside world. Chinese governors and senior officials from across the country participated in the ceremonies, and the Chinese government claimed the conference had 100,000 attendees. The festivities that accompanied this were nothing short of dazzling, with cultural entertainers and acrobats brought in from all over China.