Attention must be given to skilled labor shortages

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

Recent labor market data indicated that Taiwan is facing a growing shortage of skilled personnel, as more technology companies, local and foreign alike, are having difficulties recruiting the number of workers they need to increase production or expand research and development programs. Yet the government does not seem to be addressing the manpower shortage in a realistic manner. First, the government must find out why Taiwan is suddenly suffering an insufficiency of white-collar workers. A sustained economic recovery is only part of the reason. There are more fundamental factors. Among them is that Taiwan’s educational systems are not training and graduating enough students needed by commerce and industry. Another factor is that Taiwan has in recent years been experiencing a steady decline in the number of university students going abroad to pursue advanced studies. Taiwan used to rank top in having more young people study in advanced countries, a trend that has contributed considerably to the island’s development of high-tech industries in the last two decades.

A third major reason for the shortage of skilled workers is a renewed ‘brain-drain’ problem. According to an official study, Taiwan has in the years between 1989 and 2002 seen some 320,000 people emigrating. Nearly 80 percent of these emigrants had received college education. The administration has tried to hire more professional workers from Western countries. But the response was not encouraging, because many potential applicants were dissatisfied with Taiwan’s living environment. Taiwan, for reasons of language and culture, should be better able to tap the vast pools of technically skilled people in mainland China, but the administration imposes strict rules on such recruitment because of political considerations. The danger is that if the government cannot move quickly to help businesses solve the shortage of professionals, more foreign and local firms will switch their operations requiring greater input of skilled labor to the mainland or elsewhere.