Taiwanese need to work smarter

By Chang Ruay-shiung 張瑞雄  / 

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 - Page 8

In a special report to the Presidential Office about the problems facing skilled labor in Taiwan, the Council for Economic Planning and Development proposed four potential solutions.

These were: loosening immigration restrictions to attract skilled foreign workers to Taiwan; allowing Taiwanese technological and vocational institutes to engage in industrial-academic cooperation; allowing overseas universities to open schools in Taiwan; and splitting master’s degrees into two classes to allow students who are seeking to enter the workforce to graduate without having to write a thesis.

These solutions represent a move toward a more open system and this is appropriate when it comes to education. However, they are hardly beneficial when it comes to the issue of skilled workers because Taiwan’s problem regarding these workers is not that it lacks them, but rather that it has too many of them and not enough jobs to give them.

In recent years, many new universities have opened in Taiwan, but there is still a lack of qualified candidates to fill the vacancies offered by these new universities and competition between them is therefore fierce. In addition, the allure of plans by the Ministry of Education — plans such as the “50 billion in five years scheme,” the teaching excellence projects and the model technological university projects — have all seen the quality of university-level education in Taiwan improve sharply, with university, master’s and doctoral graduates now commonplace and the labor market well supplied with highly skilled individuals.

However, the nation’s businesses and industries are still developing slowly and are adopting an overall cost reduction strategy. They are not concerned with research and development nor with innovation. Businesses and industries have also failed to create many new employment opportunities and often only require manual workers. If this were not the case, why would Taiwan keep increasing its number of foreign laborers and why has there been so much talk lately about differentiating wages for local and foreign laborers?

Since Taiwan already lacks enough jobs for its skilled workers, loosening immigration restrictions to attract skilled foreign workers is obviously not the way forward.

With a lack of qualified students to fill local universities, allowing foreign universities to open up schools in Taiwan would only lead to local schools closing down and would also create other problems such as unemployed PhD holders and professors. These overseas schools would, like Taiwan’s schools, also end up producing large numbers of skilled workers who cannot then find jobs to match their skills. What’s more, by allowing master’s students to graduate without having to write a thesis, people with degrees lacking all the skills a master’s degree requires will abound. Companies will not want to employ such graduates and in the end, the nation will be left with even more graduates with high levels of education that serves no practical use, and who cannot find work.

According the social networking Web site LinkedIn, the four most in-demand companies among job seekers are Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. Given this, it can be argued that these companies are constantly innovating and that only with such innovation can more senior skilled positions be created within a company.

For example, Google has employed Vinton Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, to be their “chief Internet evangelist.” Also, many companies now need data scientists to analyze vast amounts of online information, social networking experts to manage their company’s social media as well as “chief inspiration officers” to give them innovative inspiration. None of these are positions are likely to be created by a manufacturing industry whose sole emphasis is lowering costs.

Of the four solutions proposed by the council, only the proposal to improve industrial-academic cooperation aims in the right direction. However, this is something that the National Science Council and the ministry have already been working on for years. Which begs the question why they have not achieved anything of note. This failure is due to the way they operate and also because the way they thought about things before was wrong. In the past, teachers had to find businesses to engage in industrial-academic cooperation on their own and very few actual businesses were willing to cooperate. As a result, teachers could only contact companies they were familiar with, essentially just “going through the motions” rather than exploring the exercise to its full potential.

To implement real industrial-academic cooperation, the government has to make it compulsory for all companies to engage in industrial-academic cooperation. The government should require all companies, according to scale, have several industrial-academic cooperation projects ongoing at any given time, or alternatively, to have several independent professors or experts on site.

These professors and experts would then be responsible for engaging in industrial-academic cooperation and exploring suitable areas for research, development and innovation. This is really the only way Taiwanese industries can improve.

Solving the problem of upgrading Taiwan’s industries will naturally solve the problem of too few positions being available for skilled workers. If Taiwanese do not think seriously about this issue and merely try to change things from the educational side alone, then the number of skilled workers without suitable jobs will only increase and more of them will move abroad in search of work.

Chang Ruay-shiung is president of the Taiwan Hospitality & Tourism College.

Translated by Drew Cameron