Mon, Jan 07, 2008 - Page 12 News List

FEATURE: Brain drain a threat to local industry


Taiwan's place at the top of the industrial food chain is being threatened by a brain drain as professionals head to China for better career prospects amid political turmoil and economic slowdown at home.

Taiwanese businesspeople have invested in tens of thousands of Chinese factories that provide white-collar jobs such as accounting, management, production planning and quality control to their compatriots.

Expanding demand in expertise in other fields -- notably asset management, business administration, research and development, marketing, medical sciences and aviation -- have also prompted more Taiwanese to try their luck in a place that for more than half a century has been the island's arch enemy.

According to 104 Corporation (104人力銀行), a leading Taiwanese jobs Web site, some 15,000 people -- or 6 percent of those posting their resumes -- were exploring prospects in China last month.

The number of posts offered on the 104 site by companies in Greater China, which includes China, Hong Kong and Macao, was 8,000 last month.

"The applicants wish to position themselves in the huge, growing market. Those with experience look for career advancement and fresh graduates hope to develop their potential there," said Max Fang (方光瑋), public relations manager of the 104 Corporation.

A sluggish domestic economy, coupled with political animosity, have accelerated the exodus of local industries to China, now Taiwan's leading overseas investment destination.

"Along with the industries went capital and talent. But in this global village, it is only natural that the rising giant is luring more money and brains from the rest of the world, especially Taiwan," said Soong Kuo-cheng (宋國誠), a researcher on Taiwan-China affairs at Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations.

"But the worst part of the brain drain is the flight of top-level researchers in biochemistry, medicine, computer science, DNA engineering and aviation materials," Soong said.

Language similarities and close historical and cultural bonds across the Taiwan Strait mean Taiwanese are at ease working there despite hostilities between the two governments, said Song.

Business and civilian exchanges have boomed in the past decade amid various liberalizations adopted by both sides.

Local businesspeople have channeled an estimated total of US$150 billion to China, which took some 41 percent of the island's total exports in the first 11 months of last year.

An estimated 1 million Taiwanese, or 4.3 percent of the island's population, are either working or living in China, according to the Mainland Affairs Council, which handles cross-strait civilian affairs.

Most are in fields related to manufacturing and business, but in recent years professionals in the service industry as well in cultural fields -- art, education, communications and entertainment -- also joined the gold rush.

Peking University last year hired three of Taiwan's top professors to teach at its Guanghua School of Management, funded by noted Taiwanese entrepreneur Yin Yan-liang (尹衍樑).

Last month, 12 Taiwanese pilots, averaging 40 years old, followed eight colleagues to join China's Sichuan Airlines (四川航空), reportedly for higher pay and better benefits.

"Given the great demand in China's commercial aviation business, I really fear that more of our experienced pilots will move to [China]. Something must be done here to keep them home. Aviation skills cannot be trained overnight, you know," said a pilot who asked not to be identified.

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