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Taiwan must address issue of insufficient talent with action

Publication Date : 26-01-2014


It was funny to see how the minister in charge of making the blueprint for Taiwan's development spelled out matter-of-factly the government's directions for building up the nation's pool of talent this week.

Kuan Chung-ming, who heads the freshly created Cabinet-level National Development Council (NDC), said that over the past few years, government agencies proposed numerous solutions to the problem of talent shortage, but only last year did the government sum them up into three goals: one for cultivating talent, one for recruitment and one for keeping talented people from leaving.

The goals do not seem wrong at all, but they are so obvious and banal that one could not but wonder why the government needed to spend a few years coming to such obvious conclusions.

And during all those years, how many of those proposed solutions were implemented? Probably very few. Probably none of them (if ever any of them have been implemented) have been very effective, or a guru of Taiwan's semiconductor industry wouldn't have complained about a lack of talent in Taiwan.

The NDC minister was actually spelling out the goals in response to complaints and criticisms made by Morris Chang, chairman of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world's biggest contract computer chip maker.

In a public speech about the problems of human resources in Taiwan, Chang noted that local politics are very liberal, but all others — such as policies concerning human resources, technology and capital — have been very conservative.

One of the causes of his grumbling is apparently the ban on semiconductor companies — including TSMC — from constructing and running advanced 12-inch wafer fabs in China. It is a ban on which the government relies to maintain Taiwan's technological competitiveness, but to which companies attribute their loss of competitiveness in the fast growing China market.

The local displays industry has also been faced with a similar situation where they are forbidden by the Taiwan government from building advanced LCD panel plants in China, which is now the biggest TV market of the world.

Chang did not go into detail about those conservative policies, but pinpointed the lack of talent as the major problem underlying Taiwan's economic woes.

He said the quickest way to remedy this lack is to open the doors wide to foreigners who could inject fresh ideas and energy to help revitalize Taiwan's economy and creativity.

Indeed, Taiwan's job market is a closed one. Readers can look around themselves and count the numbers of foreigners among their colleagues. The proportion must be very low.

Chang is not saying that Taiwan should give up cultivating its own talent, but the education system as it is today, according to the guru, has been unable to fill the pool of talent that Taiwan badly needs to stimulate its economy and boost its competitiveness.

While Chang is basically laying the blame at the door of the government, Kuan has defended his position by saying that the government alone cannot solve the problem.

He urges businesses to cooperate with the government, meaning they should offer salary and benefit packages attractive enough to compete with other countries, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, for talented people.

So who should take the blame, or the responsibility of building up the pool of talent in a major Asian economy which is nevertheless notorious for its low income levels? Probably both: the businesses and the government.

So how are we going to stop the brain drain and reverse the trend? That is one of the major tasks faced by the newly established NDC.

It may be harsh to demand Kuan produce solutions immediately; after all, he has been in office for only a few days. But we cannot afford to wait much longer. The NDC must do more than continue to “incorporate” proposed solutions into empty goals without offering feasible measures.


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