The battle for talent

Chinese cities offer lucrative incentives to lure graduates


Second-tier cities are luring students like these to start their careers or businesses in their territory

Free tickets for the Panda reserve, cheap housing and Rmb1,000 ($159.10) in payment just for turning up for an interview: these are some of the things that Chinese cities are offering in the fierce battle to attract graduate talent.

The practice intensified last year among tier-two cities but their policies were successful enough that even first-tier locations – previously a magnet for new graduates – have joined in with incentives of their own to ensure they don’t lose their edge.

In March Beijing launched a trial programme in which doctors, IT specialists and even talented athletes will be automatically granted the city’s hukou (or household registration certificate) which allows them to buy homes and get access to medical care and state education for their children.

“Our goals are to optimise the flow of talent and strengthen the economic and social development of the capital,” the policy document said.

Shanghai released a similar policy around the same time saying it was looking for people who would help the city attain “outstanding achievements recognised at home and abroad”.

As well as trying to lure domestic talent, cities are vying to attract international experts and Chinese returnees from abroad.

Earlier this month Shanghai granted the Swiss scientist and Nobel Chemistry laureate Kurt Wuthrich a green card and some 3,000 foreigners in the city now have the cards, most of them issued since 2015, according to

Second-tier cities have also been able to attract outside talent through a mixture of incentives and opportunity. Hangzhou, home to tech giant Alibaba, is a popular choice for returnees and new graduates alike. A report by the business networking website LinkedIn last month suggested that it now has the highest inflows of skilled professionals of any tier-two city. Chinese online job platform Liepin also claimed that Hangzhou attracted the largest number of job seekers last year. Hangzhou’s programme has a range of incentives, including subsidised apartments for young entrepreneurs, tax breaks, and low-cost tech parks for people to start businesses.

Other advantages, as far as newcomers are concerned, include cheaper housing than many other cities, cleaner air and a less hectic pace of life.

Hangzhou is benefiting from another new trend in which Chinese tech graduates are choosing to come home to China rather than stay on in the US to work for start-ups or established firms in Silicon Valley, the South China Morning Post reported earlier this month.

The central government’s Thousand Talents programme, launched in 2008, has also brought more than 7,000 elite scientists and engineers home to China, according to a report from Xinhua last year. Successful applicants get a Rmb2 million research grant and a Rmb500,000 “personal reward” payout, as well as medical and housing benefits.

Recruitment site Boss Zhipin says that 52% of graduates decided to start their careers in second-tier cities last year – the first time that more people looked outside of the first-tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen for work. “In cities like Chengdu, I can still pursue my dreams, but without all the struggle,” Xinhua quoted one graduate of Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University as saying.

To make things easier for graduate job-seekers, Sichuan’s capital has created 20 hotels which offer a week’s free accommodation to people looking for jobs. Like other locations involved in “the battle for talent” Chengdu also offers hukou to graduates willing to move there – even if they haven’t found jobs.

For top talent, the city offers help getting driving licences, a fast-track to medical care and even free access to the nearby Panda reserve.

Hubei’s capital Wuhan says it wants to grant full residency status to a million newly qualified students over the next five years and it is building affordable apartments to house them, including offers of a 20% discount on home purchases.

Changsha, Shenyang and Nanjing are also offering subsidies to newcomers who rent or buy homes, which has triggered a more cynical theory that some of these initiatives are really about buoying local property sales.

Nanjing is offering graduates Rmb1,000 simply for being willing to travel to the city for job interviews.

“A few years ago migrant workers were seen as the most needed talents…. But with the transformation of the economy, the definition of ‘talent’ is changing,” wrote the People’s Daily

Back in the capital, local officials have estimated that 51,000 new jobs will open up in the first half of 2018, with the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area and three science parks – in Zhongguancun, Huairou and Changping – accounting for more than a third of demand. Almost 90% of new employment will be in the service sector, including information, software, business services, scientific research, modern manufacturing and real estate, the China Daily reports.

“Scientific innovation, finance and culture are industries that Beijing should focus on instead of labour-intensive industries,” said Tan Xuxiang, a senior Beijing government researcher.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.