Eliminate Barriers to Imported Talent
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 16, 2011
Summary: Globalization and technological innovation have had a long term impact on the global economy and the labor market. Markets have expanded. Talented individuals with special expertise who are well versed in managing the global market have become targets for international recruitment. Salaries have risen. In this ever-intensifying global battle for talent, those nations able to attract international talent will be the winners. Those nations unable to attract international talent will be the losers.
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Globalization and technological innovation have had a long term impact on the global economy and the labor market. Markets have expanded. Talented individuals with special expertise who are well versed in managing the global market have become targets for international recruitment. Salaries have risen. In this ever-intensifying global battle for talent, those nations able to attract international talent will be the winners. Those nations unable to attract international talent will be the losers.
Taiwan's brain drain has grown into a crisis. Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey and a dozen or so community leaders recently published a research paper entitled "Declaration on Talent." They called on the government to address the brain drain. How serious is the brain drain? What policy myths hinder the introduction of international talent? This newspaper published a series of reports entitled "Brain Drain, Save Our Nation." In recent years Taiwan has suffered a serious high-tech brain drain. Eighty percent have moved to the Chinese mainland. The Chinese mainland is offering executives over four times what they can make on Taiwan. Talented individuals within the financial sector, the medical community, and the academic world have all been lured away by the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The situation is already very serious.
Talented individuals on Taiwan have become targets of recruitment by neighboring countries. This ought to be a matter of pride. But competition for talent is coming at us from all directions. Domestic businesses and academia lament the lack of talented individuals. They lament even more their inability to retain talented individuals. Tsai Ching-yen of the Industrial Technology Research Institute directly named the Executive Yuan's "anti-fat cat provision" as a "stumbling block for recruiters." This provision limits the Industrial Technology Research Institute's ability to recruit international talent. Salaries are capped at the vice ministerial level -- 160,000 NT per month. This does not accord with international realities. Since it went into effect in March, the ITRI has been unable to recruit any skilled employees. Over the same period, many researchers were hired away to the Chinese mainland at high salaries.
To the mind of a populist, talented individuals are "fat cats." And this is how some officials within the government see things. These officials evince the mentality of "frogs contemplating the sky from the bottom of the well." They completely ignore the fact that transnational competition for talent has long been in full swing. Can the Executive Yuan's "anti-fat cat provision" prevent "fat cat" patronage? That remains to be seen, But its most serious side effect has been to hinder public foundations such as the ITRI and the National Health Research Institutes from recruiting international talent. Taiwan suffers from a serious talent deficit. This provision merely binds ourselves hand and foot. It must be reevaluated.
Under globalization, individuals with special expertise are in heavy demand. Are all those who receive high salaries necessarily "fat cats?" In the United States and Europe the term "fat cat" applies primarily to executives of financial institutions. During the financial tsunami, governments used taxpayer money to bail out large financial institutions. Executives within these financial institutions demanded and received huge pay increases and bonuses. They were justly villified as "fat cats." The public on Taiwan understandably has no desire to see retired high government officials become beneficiaries of political patronage. But the "anti-fat cat provision" must not hinder the introduction of international talent. One cannot apply the label "fat cat" to anyone receiving a high salary.
This is the era of the Internet. Borders are disappearing. Talented individuals enjoy increased mobility. Multinational corporations offer the highest salaries, best benefits, and most amenable work environments in their effort to attract top talent, Talented individuals are their most important resource. Face book founder Mark Zuckerberg asked rhetorically, "If you are building a company, would you prefer one standout person over one hundred pretty good people?" South Korea's Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee said, "One genius can feed a million people," That is why the Samsung Group never scrimps on talent. Google has long offered generous employee benefits. It allows employees to use part of their working hours to do whatever they wish to do, Late last year Google announced a 10% pay increase and a US$1000 cash bonus. They are generous to their employees because they want to defeat their competitors.
Taiwan is poor in natural resources. Today's prosperity and achievements are mainly the result of talented individuals. But neighboring countries are now offering salaries several times higher. They are offering vastly more generous benefits in their effort to poach talent from every business sector on Taiwan. Domestic R&D and academic institutions, hampered by legal restrictions on the introduction of top international players, are unable to retain talented employees, High-level talent is leaving faster than it is arriving, This serious brain drain will stifle our international competitiveness.
The nation is suffering from a talent deficit. The Academia Sinica's "Declaration on Talent" offers a number of suggestions. In the short term, the government must eliminate barriers to the introduction of international talent. For example, it must review the "anti-fat cat provisions," Salaries for government-owned corporations should be handled by an Executive Yuan "Remuneration Committee." In the long term, systemic and legal reforms must be carried out, Can our talent deficit crisis be resolved? That depends upon the Ma administration's determination and courage.