Monday, April 03, 2006

Can you believe labor shortage in China?

From The New York Times
Persistent labor shortages at hundreds of Chinese factories have led experts to conclude that the economy is undergoing a profound change that will ripple through the global market for manufactured goods.

The shortage of workers is pushing up wages and swelling the ranks of the country's middle class, and it could make Chinese-made products less of a bargain worldwide. International manufacturers are already talking about moving factories to lower-cost countries like Vietnam. …

"The next great story in China is how they are going to move out of the lower-end stuff: the toys, textiles and sporting goods equipment," said Jonathan Anderson, an economist at UBS in Hong Kong. "They're going to do different things." …
Perhaps textile manufacturing will come back home.
"When the economic reform started, migrant workers were very hard-working, and usually stayed for a long time at factory jobs, but the new generation has changed," said Chen Guanghan, a professor at Zhongshan University in Hong Kong. "They are reluctant to take factory jobs that are harsh and pay very little."

Many are going to college to avoid the factory floor. Last year, Chinese colleges and universities enrolled over 14 million students, up from about 4.3 million in 1999.

Workers are sharing more information about factory conditions among friends and learning to bargain and leap from job to job. They are also increasingly ambitious.

"There's still a lot of cheap labor, but Chinese workers are getting skilled very quickly," said Ms. Hong at Goldman Sachs. "They are moving up the value chain faster than people expected."
We seem to be doing the opposite. We are graduating fewer and fewer engineers and computer scientists. Pretty soon, we'll be the low-wage producer where China sends the jobs it doesn't want.

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