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5 Questions for David Arkless

June 29, 2005
Related Topics: Global Business Issues, Managing International Operations, Featured Article
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David Arkless
Senior vice president for corporate affairs, Manpower

China’s remarkable economic growth has not overshadowed its need for better management and efficiency. Now, a pilot project between employment services firm Manpower and Chinese labor authorities is aimed at improving training and placement for workers in Shanghai. David Arkless talks to Workforce Management staff writer Jonathan Pont about the problems that businesses and government officials in Shanghai intend to fix.

Workforce Management: How would you characterize the potential in this market from the perspective of a firm looking to set up operations in China?

David Arkless: Right now foreign companies invest a billion dollars a week into China. But if you look at its GDP, foreign investment is a tiny part of what’s happening there. The Chinese economy, many say, will be the largest consumer economy in the world in 10 or 15 years. What companies say when they come to us, by far, is not about offshoring or to get lower labor costs. They want to be in the middle of the fastest-growing consumer economy in the world.

WM: How does this initiative differ from what the company has done in the past in China?

Arkless: We took the classic approach to enter China: Form a joint venture, then develop a wholly owned foreign entity. You start organic operations, hire locals, train them in your systems and open offices. Now, we’re forecasting the need for talent in professional and vocational areas in six-month, 12-month and five-year periods by surveying over 100,000 of the municipality’s investors, state-owned businesses, government, universities.

WM: Which challenges will you address in the Chinese labor market?

Arkless: China invests more in vocational training than any other country. The problem is matching the skilled people with economic requirements of places like Shanghai. In employment offices, we’ll have Internet-based skills assessment. That means the minute a student walks in, a series of tests in Mandarin will tell us the vocational area he’s suited to.

WM: How is it working with Chinese government officials?

Arkless: I found the process refreshing. They’re among the most intelligent and forward-looking government officials I’ve met anywhere. They’re saying, "We know if we’re going to be competitive, we need flexibility and productivity in the workforce." State-owned entities are being told, "You’d better learn to compete against foreign entities. … You’re going to be private in a few years."

WM: What’s the most surprising thing about modern Chinese capitalism?

Arkless: They’re embracing it, and it’s changing quickly. There are still some old characteristics. They wonder why we work on such short horizons when their economy has been running for 5,000 years. The cities have become dynamic and fast-moving. They’ve got the long-term view and the desire to get things running in the short term very quickly. They still call it a socialist economy, but it’s behaving like an open one.

Workforce Management, July 2005, p. 18 --Subscribe Now!

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