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Loss of young talent stifles economic growth for northeast China

Reporter: Guan Yang 丨 CCTV.com

12-17-2016 05:13 BJT

At the annual economic session, one of the issues Chinese decision-makers will be addressing is the vicious circle in the country's worst performing region, where much of the young talent is leaving because opportunities are few and far between. 

Post-graduates from a top university in China's northeast, with a major in information science and engineering, Gao Liang and Tao Qingnan are heading in different directions: Liang has decided to remain at the local scientific institute, whereas Qingnan is leaving for China's silicon valley - Shenzhen.

"I think the pressure in first-tier cities is too much to handle: house prices, household registration, the fierce competition...I would rather settle down here," said Gao Liang, graduate student of Northeastern University.

"Bluntly speaking, I must say companies in southern China are more professional, they walk me through the recruitment processes, and then guide me on the right career path," said graduate student Tao Qingnan.

Tao Qingnan isn't the only one in the northeast who thinks this way. In fact, the mass exodus of young people is threatening to dry the talent pool from a region which the central government is trying to revitalize.

Hundreds of thousands of people have abandoned China's northeast in the last 15 years. Many of them are well-educated high earners who are looking for better jobs and lifestyles elsewhere. This brain drain is driven by market rules, and not because of a lack of talent retention.

To understand how serious the problem is, I spoke to the management of one of the region's leading high-tech firms. This is an industry that relies heavily on young talent to survive and thrive. But they explained how difficult it is to recruit the kind of skilled workers they require.

"In recent campus recruitment drives, we've received lots of CVs but then nobody turned up at the interviews. We later found out the candidates were worried about the lack of "cluster" effect, as the high-tech industry in this region makes up a small proportion of the nation as a whole," said Han Xu, director of Yuanda corporation.

According to Xinhua news agency, the negative sentiment surrounding the regional economy has spooked local students, to the point where graduates returning to the region for work has dipped by 20 percent.

"If we were recruiting for one particular senior position, we have to offer 2 to 3 times the salary our competitors in southern China would pay. And this has become a vicious circle for us, our overall budget goes up, and our products lose their competitiveness," Han Xu said.

So how to end this vicious circle is the question the country's policymakers have to address. The latest top-down efforts to reform inefficient, state-owned enterprises and move towards a more service-based economy can succeed in the long run but for now, young people are still voting with their feet.

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