Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where to Find Your Whiz Kids

Jim Ziegler, Director of Asia Pacific Marketing and Technology at Eastman Chemical Company, was frustrated when he phoned last week, “We need chemists and engineers who are familiar with our business areas,” he said, “We want to know the best universities in China for specific technical skills and foundational training.” Jim said that hiring more students directly from university is of interest, but very challenging because outside of a few generally-recognized schools, it is difficult to know how to evaluate the school or the quality of the graduates when he looks at a resume. “We are definitely willing to invest in the continued development of our employees, but we want to build on a solid foundation of technical training, soft skills such as teamwork and multilingual capability, and basic business acumen, and that combination has been difficult to find.”

Many MNC’s are having a hard time finding technically qualified employees in China such as mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers. They also struggle to find people with general business knowledge and some polish and confidence who can play sales and marketing roles.

Like Eastman, many companies are currently trying to aggressively grow and expand their employee base in China. Because there is such a strong need, companies wind up poaching from one another. “As companies build more labs, technical centers, and manufacturing facilities in China, we are all going to wind up stealing each other’s people,” Ziegler said. “People who are jumping around from company to company are getting increasingly expensive, and less experienced in any specific area.” Some employers are trying to approach the market in more creative ways. This includes spending less money on recruiting individuals with 3 – 5 years experience. Instead they hire directly from universities and invest more in training. The question is how do you know which schools have the best people for what you need?

People may argue about the relative ranking but there is general agreement about the top universities in China (see box attached.) These institutions are the first places that companies look when looking for graduate talent. In addition, they may recruit at second tier universities which have specialty programs in their business areas.

Discover Card in China recruits at all the top universities in Beijing and Shanghai. Fude Wang, General Manager of the credit card company says the company has a formal recruiting program which includes developing relationships with the professors who can point out the top students. “We target people with graduate degrees in quantitative analysis and statistics. We recruit at all the top universities because we find that language is the main barrier to hiring people and students at the top universities have better English.”

Discover decided from the start to hire people directly from university and train them. It finds that the employees enjoy the training and are more likely to stay with the company. Also the company found that investing in its employees helps build Discover’s reputation. “In China,” Wang said, “Discover wants to be the best. Giving our employees thorough training helps us be perceived as the best.”

While Discover recruits at the top ranked universities, other companies recruit at universities that have specialty disciplines in the expertise they require. Among China’s more than 2,200 universities, companies can find academic specialists of world class caliber in just about every subject.

“We recruit at all the universities on the list,” said Steve Wang, Human Resources Manager for Laboratory Products at ThermoFisher Scientific. “Also we think Wuhan University should be top-ranked because its College of Pharmacy is excellent.”

Some Chinese university specialties can be quite esoteric. Ansaldo STS, an Italian manufacturer of transportation switching equipment for train and subways, recruits exclusively at Beijing Jiaotong University, Southwest University and Lanzhou University because these three Chinese universities have specific programs in railway signaling engineering.

Employers agree generally that technical training at Chinese universities and institutes is at a high standard. Business education is more controversial. Critics comment that graduates from Chinese business schools lack “soft skills” because the schools’ curriculum and teaching methods are traditional. Students miss the interpersonal give-and-take characteristic of Western-style MBA programs that assign case studies, team projects and presentations. Li Na, China Human Resources Director at Ansaldo STS, says that “Our technical education is better than business education. If you want a real business education, go to the United States or Singapore.”

But in an environment where Chinese growth is so much greater than anyone else’s, the Chinese attitude about going abroad to learn how to get rich is changing. Tiger Pan, President of Asian Metals, a Chinese metals research company has 150 employees and recruits from about 20 Chinese Universities. He believes that for aspiring Chinese business people, Tsinghua University and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business are the best places to go. “The schoolmates at Cheung Kong are very powerful. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba graduated from there, and so did Niu Gengsheng, the Chairman of China Mengniu Dairy Company. The alumni are like an economic forum.” He recommends Tsinghua as the best university for people who want careers in the government sector.

ThermoFisher’s Wang questions the quality of business programs in general. “I think CEIBs and Cheung Kong are good. The rest of the business schools are just places to get certificates.” He views the graduate overseas business schools in Hong Kong, Singapore and the US as young and passionate but not as day-to-day or as stable.

In China employers are able to find university graduates with strong technical abilities and skills once they identify the universities with specialty disciplines in their area of interest. Providing training to the graduates to teach them how to do the job and some soft skills needs to be part of the process. “Our employees have high expectations and are very ambitious.” Says Discover’s Wang, “The raw talent pool is so great.”

Beijing Normal University
Fudan University, Shanghai
Nanjing University, Nanjing
Nan'kai University, Tianjin
Peking University, Beijing
Renmin University of China, Beijing
Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai
Tsinghua University, Beijing
University of Science & Technology of China
Zhejiang University, Hangzhou
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Cheong Kong Graduate School of Business, Beijing
CEIBS, Shanghai
University of Science and Technology MBA program
University of Hong Kong
Chinese University of Hong Kong
National Taiwan University
National Jiaotong University
National Tsinghua University

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