Three years ago, Chris Collins, a US native, flew to China to take a job teaching English at a private school. He began studying Mandarin on the plane. Today, at 25, he is the international business development manager for a Chinese software outsourcing company, MaesInfo, speaks the language and lives in a high-rise apartment in Chengdu.
Collins' fast track to management ranks is a direct result of China's accelerating growth as an offshore outsourcing provider. The Chinese IT and business process outsourcing market, at US$1.7 billion last year, is growing at 38 per cent annually and will likely reach US$7 billion in 2010, according to the Everest Group, a US-based outsourcing consulting firm.
China's outsourcing growth is still only a fraction of India's outsourcing market, which hit US$40 billion last year and is expected to rise to US$60 billion by 2010, according to Everest. But the rapid development of the Chinese market is creating opportunity for US citizens with a spirit of adventure, a willingness to learn the language, and some business smarts.
"I think there is a significant amount of opportunity," said Brian Keane, the CEO Dextrys, a US firm with software development centers in Chain. The opportunity is especially strong for managers. "Five years ago there was no services industry (in China) -- there is no older generation that is teaching this new generation," he said.
Jacob Hsu, CEO of Symbio Group, a development firm founded in the US, that today is headquartered in Beijing, said that "there is demand for any person in the US who speaks Mandarin and who wants to come back to China -- we got jobs," said Hsu, who was born in Taipei but moved at a very young age to California, where he grew up.
China universities are producing a flood of raw technical talent out of its universities, but management experience takes time. "People who can manage 300-person teams just don't exist in China today," said Hsu.
One of the more daunting aspects of working in China is speaking the language. If China faces a shortage of managers, the US suffers from shortage of language teachers, said Dr. Yulan Lin, who heads the World Language program for Boston Public Schools. There are about 2,000 students now studying Mandarin in the school system, and that's about double what it was a decade ago.
As more students in China seek to learn English, the effort is mirrored in the US. "More and more, you will see students realize that it will be their future," said Lin.
College enrollments "Many of the opportunities that you hear about, just like the US, are local ones from friends or friends of friends," said Collins, "so it's very important to just establish yourself physically here in China and then start looking for business opportunities and managing opportunities."
While many in China are learning English, Dr. Cynthia Ning, the executive director of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, said it is as important as well for people in the US to learn Chinese and says not to know it creates a disadvantage. "If you don't speak their language, you can't play on a level playing field."
Although the direct path to a job in China from the US may be through management, there is opportunity as well for people willing to find a job once they arrive in China, which is what Collins did. "The majority of people who come over come as an English teacher," said Collins, who began his China experience in that fashion. But then he began to do some networking.