Everybody knows about China’s economic miracle and how it came to be: low cost labour, state subsidies, efficiency of scale, etc. But the outlook is not all rosy. China’s economy has fundamentally changed, but there is no way to know for certain how far it can go due to a basket of reasons. One of the main problems they face is that workers who are educated overseas rarely return – there is a brain drain. Is it possible for the Chinese economy to stall with a lack of creative workers and thought leaders?
1. Chinese Workers Need to Be More Creative
China is known to produce hundreds of thousands of highly educated graduates each year, but are they creative? Many would say they simply aren’t. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise in a communist controlled country where free speech is neither valued nor encouraged. Are these the type of people who can create products like those of Apple, Google, Facebook or Amazon? As the Chinese economy pivots more towards consumer spend and with less focus being placed on growth from mass manufacturing, China needs to see growth in the creative industries; and not only to drive up GDP, but to service this shift to a consumer economy.
2. It’s Getting Harder to Find Jobs
When your economy is growing at an eye-watering pace, it’s not difficult to find a job. It might be a job on a production line paying a dollar an hour, but it’s a job. But that’s not the kind of job these graduates want. The Chinese government can crack down on free speech and crank up their internet filter as much as they like, but these young professionals know of the world beyond the wall. And if they struggle to find jobs at home, and they increasingly are, will this generation pass up the opportunity of working abroad?
3. Can They Change Fast Enough?
Much has been said of the rapid pace of change in China economically, but in order to progress to a consumer economy with a vibrant creative industry base, something has to change. This change has started, as a recent analysis from Lloyds recently reported (full reports and latest news on China here). The problem is that something is not going to be as easy as a new five year plan. Creativity requires one key thing: freedom. And in China, that’s a very rare commodity. Their education system also needs an overhaul. Can a system that doesn’t promote students to think differently really produce graduates with the skills their economy so badly needs? Not without a lobotomy.
Without a major infusion of creativity in the Chinese workforce, more and more Chinese nationals will leave for an education elsewhere (in the West) and many of them will not return to help shape the economy of their homeland. When Chinese policymakers realise the severity of the issue is one thing. Dealing with it is another.
Image: Robert Baxter