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Taiwan must put a stop to the endless cycle of brain drain
Publication Date : 25-01-2013
Two sets of figures published this week concerning Taiwan's employment indeed show some of the country's problems. The lesson, though, is less about the labor market itself and more about its educational, social and economic development.
The government's monthly report on employment showed that the December jobless rate dropped to 4.18 per cent, improving by 0.09 percentage points compared to November. Despite the improvement, unemployment among the young and educated is on the rise.
Meanwhile, a private consulting firm released a report showing that 69 per cent of the companies it surveyed expect some of their employees to look for work in other Asian countries, particularly China, as well as Hong Kong and Singapore in 2013.
An unemployment rate around 4 per cent is not exceptionally high, but the fact that more young and educated people are unemployed is worrying. It may mean that employers tend to hire older or more experienced workers, or that jobs available in the labour market do not meet the expectations of the young ones who choose not to accept undesirable offers.
We need to look at the demographics of the nation's young people to understand what their job preferences may be. Many of them are college graduates and their parents are probably much better off than their grandparents. That means they are under much less pressure to find a job after graduating and can afford to extend their wait for an ideal job.
The education system itself also contributes to an imbalance in the job market - employers are unable to find suitable employees while young people cannot find suitable jobs.
After a decade of education reform, almost all senior high school graduates can now go to college - thanks to the fact that many junior colleges have been upgraded to universities.
On the secondary level, vocational training is a much less desirable choice. The reason is obvious: parents these days usually do not need their children to enter the job market early to ease their financial pressures. They usually would want their children to go to college, and therefore regular senior high schools are their top preferences.
Of course, college education is about much more than job training, but clearly the economy in Taiwan - which has seen many of its businessmen move their operations overseas - may no longer be able to support these young people, as well as many older and more experienced workers.
That's the reason why many Taiwanese workers are seeking work in other countries. The consulting firm, explaining its latest survey, noted that Taiwan's workforce is highly mobile and its talents are in high demand in the Greater China region.
For example, China's telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies launched a major headhunting campaign in Taiwan last year, with an aim to recruit a few thousand professionals. Taiwan's LCD panel industry has lost many of its executives and engineers to competitors in China.
Indeed, China is a good destination for job-seekers who are not satisfied with the employment conditions in Taiwan, where salary levels have been on the decline. On the contrary, China's quick rise is promising great opportunities.
Of course there are risks of working in China. Some observers have noted that Taiwanese talent is recruited because Chinese employers want to learn their skills and tricks, after which the Taiwanese workers will be shown the door.
That might be true, but the conditions in Taiwan have already reached the point where the risks of working in other countries are worth taking.
The brain drain will worsen Taiwan's shortage of professionals, as the consulting firm noted. It will undermine the nations' economic development, as investors - foreign and domestic alike - will hesitate in setting up operations in a country where they cannot find sufficient human resources.
The more talent leaves, the less investment Taiwan will attract. The government must work out measures to stop this vicious cycle.