I’m in Beijing this week to launch the Workforce Institute in China. I’ve been to China several times in the past, but not since 1999. My trips in the past were principally to Hong Kong – which even in 1999 was very cosmopolitan. Other areas of China, though, were much slower-paced places. I made one trip to Macau in the mid-nineties, then a sleepy Portugese colony with casinos that would have been familiar to a visitor from the 1940’s. Now Macau looks a lot more like Las Vegas. When I visited Guangzhou in the mid-90’s, there were many more bicycles than cars. Today in Beijing, the relatively small number of intrepid souls on bikes are swimming in a sea of cars and pollution from those cars as well as the explosive coal-fueled economy.
China’s economic growth has fueled a rising middle class with discretionary funds to spend. China’s reputation as a non-stop source of cheap labor is also changing, with rising wages making it increasingly difficult for Chinese companies to compete in a global economy on low cost alone. Check out “Labor 2.0″ in the China Economic Review for a rundown on the causes of rising wages as well as possible policy interventions that could help smooth out the labor shortages faced by Chinese companies.
I spent Monday visiting our local Kronos office and preparing for the events of the rest of the week. I also visited with senior leaders at eFuture, a leading supplier of software and services to retail and consumer goods industries. Like Kronos, eFuture established an institute to study issues relevant to their customers, and shared their observations of the issues most important to retailers in China today. Not unsurprisingly, labor cost is high on the list. eFuture customers and readers are keen to incorporate best practices in workforce management into their companies in order to compete profitably. I’m looking forward to meeting other thought leaders as the week goes on.
And what about breakfast? One thing that hasn’t changed since 1999 is bok choy on the breakfast buffet. Right next to the french toast and tater tots.