Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators this week were at odds over a proposed amendment to regulations governing the hiring of foreign white-collar interns. While legislators disagreed over whether the draft would solve the nation’s employment problems, they failed to give proper emphasis to what are the two biggest issues — starting salaries for new Taiwanese graduates and the national brain drain. While the bill would not necessarily exacerbate these issues, it would not ameliorate them either.
The proposal would allow foreign graduates to apply for one-to-two-year visas, depending on their field of study, within two years of graduation. Currently only students can apply for these visas.
The bill appears to be a temporary fix that would provide businesses with access to cheap white-collar labor, DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said.
However, DPP Legislator Karen Yu (余宛如) said that regardless of salaries, hiring foreign interns would not have much influence on the local job market, citing 10 million Taiwanese workers compared with only 458 foreign interns last year — a number that would likely increase by only several hundred if the bill is passed.
Wage stagnation for Taiwanese employees is one of the problems that needs to be tackled, but that is only part of the problem, Yu said.
The latest numbers from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) show that more than 700,000 Taiwanese worked abroad in 2015 — the latest year for which the directorate has published statistics.
The numbers also reflected a drop in the average age of Taiwanese seeking employment overseas, from 30 to 34 seven years ago, to 25 to 29 now. That means young people with little experience are looking to develop their careers elsewhere.
Wage stagnation is contributing to the brain drain — online job bank yes123 published a poll showing that graduates with a bachelor’s degree expected an average starting salary of NT$29,832, despite employers offering only NT$26,619, while post-graduate degree holders receive NT$28,625.
New graduates in Japan earn NT$57,310.57 per month on average, while those in Singapore earn an average of NT$73,205 per month.
However, 58 percent of Taiwanese working abroad are in China, the DGBAS said.
The average salary for new graduates in China is NT$37,226 per month. The starting salary is not the only factor contributing to the brain drain.
The lack of a long-term outlook, an overemphasis on cost reduction and a stifling of innovation by outdated policies that were designed in an era of basic manufacturing contribute to Taiwan’s failure to upgrade its industries and retain skilled workers, finance blogger Chiou Mu-tien (邱慕天) has said.
An emphasis on cost reduction means little to no money is spent on infrastructure and worker training. Companies in Taiwan often complain that new graduates have no practical skills. Perhaps this is because graduates put off leaving school and instead opt to continuously upgrade their education. When they finally graduate they must do military service before entering the job market. Companies then expect them to be ready to work without any additional skills training.
While hiring foreign graduates might help to build relationships with other nations and improve Taiwan’s presence on the world stage, it is not the solution to the nation’s labor woes. Taiwanese businesses need to raise salaries to international standards, provide advancement and training opportunities that make working for them more alluring and spend money on infrastructure that would allow them to be more competitive in an international environment.
Taiwanese companies must learn that making money means spending money, not penny pinching.
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