A flurry of recent articles has pointed to the demise of accessible jobs for expats in China. Experts say locals who have studied and worked internationally bring more to the table in terms of language skills and cultural competence. But there’s still a thriving job market in China for qualified expats that can’t be so easily replaced by talented Chinese applicants. We underline a few of them here.
1) Language teaching
While myths surrounding ESL teachers in China abound, language teaching can be a valuable way to gain insight into Chinese culture and language. While English teaching remains at the forefront, there is also high demand for other languages such as French, Spanish, German and Russian. While the majority of teachers teach children, there is also a growing demand from adults. The native requirement means that these jobs will always be open to qualified teachers.
2) Technical specializations
The job market for foreigners in China varies depending on where you are in the country, as tends to be the case. In smaller cities and the surroundings of Tier 1 cities like Shanghai and Beijing, there is high demand for engineering graduates who can bring foreign expertise to local manufacturing companies. In Shanghai and Beijing themselves, the thriving financial services industry is a good place to look for those with a relevant background in finance or economics. For those with a technical specialization, speaking Chinese is often not a requirement, though this is changing as more locals leave the country to study and return with experience from overseas.
3) Language requirements
What of the jobs that do require proficiency in Mandarin? It’s no secret: strong Chinese skills will land you jobs that wouldn’t be open to you otherwise – in marketing, sales, or PR, to name but a few. Chinese companies gain face by hiring expats (as discussed here), and many companies consider that their foreign staff will liaise better with foreign clients.
There is one sector that will always require foreigners with strong language skills – the translation and editing, and, more broadly, writing industry. The demand for foreigners with excellent Mandarin and a feel for their own native language is increasing, as the Middle Kingdom continues to open up and expand. While many companies require a degree in translation or communications, many translator/reviser and editing positions are also open to native speakers of foreign languages with some work experience in the translation field. Some companies based abroad will even help you complete your translation training while here.
4) The food and beverage industry
While big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have a plethora of options for those wishing to dine out or hit the bars, many smaller Tier 2 or Tier 3 cities are just beginning to expand when it comes to Western restaurant options. While starting and running a business represents a significant time and financial commitment, it can also be extremely fulfilling – not to mention a good money-making enterprise.
Local Chinese are curious to explore the myriad of cuisines from the West, and savvy foreigners with experience in the sector and a good Chinese business partner have ample opportunity to open a successful restaurant or bar. As with all things entrepreneurial, the opportunity is there to be seized, and this industry is no exception.
5) Top-level management
For foreigners with extensive work experience at the senior management level, a move to China can mean hitting pay dirt. Senior executives hired on a so-called “expat package” often make extremely high salaries, as well as benefiting from a range of generous extras such as housing, health insurance, living allowance and tax equalization. As one BBC Capital article states: “Despite increasing competition from seasoned local talent … in the future many top multinationals will continue to hire expat C-Suite executives because they feel more comfortable working with people from their home country”. Over 50% of top level management in multinational companies in China is foreign. For those who have already carved out a good career at home, China can be a good option.
While opportunities are still open to many foreigners in China, there is no doubt that the niche for foreign generalists in China is narrowing. What has emerged over the past few years as the country continues to boom is that getting ahead in the Asian giant requires more than just soft skills and a foreign face? Many companies are increasingly on the lookout for foreigners with work experience in China and language skills they can put to good use at work. For foreign candidates, putting in the time and effort to get to grips with the language and culture can make all the difference.