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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

The IT Work Force in China

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The rapid impact of IT on society has propelled the popularity of the profession. IT corporate managers can get excellent employees from a variety of sources, such as professional recruitment consultants, job fairs, online and newspaper job postings, or hiring new graduates directly from universities. Big corporations, especially international or domestic leaders, can draw stronger candidates than the smaller or startup companies mostly because of higher salaries and attractive benefit packages.

The shortage of capable employees is in fact slowing the development of small businesses within China. Due to cultural traditions and inflexible training systems, Chinese industry does not have enough trained IT professionals in many critical areas such as project management, system planning, hardware system research, and basic arithmetic research, among others. It is even worse for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The competition for excellent IT talent is becoming even more intense. Indeed, international corporations, universities, and institutes are competing to attract China's IT professionals. These facilities not only offer high salaries and scholarships, but also the promise to help with immigration and citizenship. Under these circumstances, more and more excellent students of computer science and electronic engineering from Chinese universities are taking the chance to further their study or working careers abroad.

Some corporations also hire university and college professors for more money than they can earn from teaching. This leads to a wide shortage of qualified teachers. As a result, the quality in IT training of many Chinese universities is seriously affected. This will impact the IT industry in the long run since universities and colleges are the major source of future IT professionals.

Developed countries worldwide are equipped with comprehensive higher-education systems. Companies are also struggling with the challenge of maintaining well-trained employees for the long term. If these trends are not reversed, it seems certain the Chinese IT industry will lose a significant portion of its potency.

Discrimination is another obstacle in the IT industry. Most employers welcome those with more than five years of work experience. Moreover, the new graduates from top-notch universities or colleges will get more and better job offers. These trends make it difficult for some employees to develop and exert themselves, and at the same time sharpen the conflict of supply and demand in the labor market. Some IT companies train their own talent by establishing in-house training centers or by contracting training to relevant colleges. This method attempts to solve the IT staff supply and demand problem, that is, recruitment from the conventional societal supply chain cannot meet the demand of a firm's development. Some firms also exchange their excellent employees or employ pluralists working for a group of firms. This method has proven to save staff costs for middle- and smaller-sized firms.

With the accelerating penetration of IT into everyday life, the demand for a bigger IT work force grows steadily. Both government and industry have realized its importance and taken measures to strengthen the production of highly qualified IT talent and to attract IT staff from all over the world. The IT staffing shortage is expected to continue for the next few years, but will gradually lessen and eventually even out.

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Wang Shan ( is Dean of the School of Information at Renmin University of China, Beijing, and Vice President of the China Computer Federation (CCF).

©2001 ACM  0002-0782/01/0700  $5.00

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