Southeast Asian young people are reorganizing Chinese large factories in the workplace

Southeast Asian youth reorganizing Chinese factories

A 21-year-old Jakarta boy named Sinta has been anxious and insomnia for a week.

With more than a month to go before he graduates from the Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, he has yet to receive an offer from his favorite company. As a computer major graduate, he has submitted most of his resumes to Chinese companies. Unlike their ancestors, many young Indonesians believe that China’s product and technology strengths are strong enough and Chinese companies in Indonesia have become their first choice for job applications.

Unlike the anxious Sinta, a Singaporean girl named Lea appears more poised. She has received four offers, including Chinese, European and American companies, as well as Japanese companies, and is about to graduate from the Singapore Management University. Like many outstanding Singaporean graduates, Lea prioritizes European companies, although the Chinese company that offered her a 15% higher salary is also attractive.

Sinta and Lea’s job choices reflect the complex situation that Chinese companies face when recruiting in Southeast Asia.

“Chinese companies do not have the advantage in the Singaporean recruitment market. Most Vietnamese senior talents tend to choose European and American companies, while the recognition of Chinese companies by Indonesians and Malaysians is relatively high, making it relatively easy for Chinese companies to recruit here.” Adam, head of Glints China, which focuses on talent recruitment in Southeast Asia, told Huxiu.

In the past two years, going south seems to have become a trend for Chinese companies. With dreams of mining this hot land, a large number of Chinese companies have begun to recruit and deploy troops in Southeast Asia, and the importance of the Southeast Asian market has gradually increased.

According to LinkedIn data, Chinese overseas brands are among the top 25 most concentrated countries/regions, and four of them are in Southeast Asia. “Unlike early foreign trade and manufacturing companies that went abroad, today’s Chinese high-tech and intelligent manufacturing companies will regard Southeast Asia as the first market rather than prioritizing expansion in Latin America or Africa.” Wang Qian, general manager of LinkedIn’s Chinese Talent Solutions Division, told Huxiu.

However, challenges come along with it. Soon, many Chinese companies stumbled in localizing management. Various internal operations such as 996 work schedule, team overtime for project delivery, and horse-racing mechanism, common in large domestic companies, have encountered setbacks in Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia, Chinese companies must forget about Chinese speed. For Chinese companies that want to deeply cultivate in Southeast Asia, this may be a necessary mindset.

Salvaging high-end talent in Southeast Asia “Chinese large companies have strong technical capabilities. I feel that I can learn a lot and gain a lot of experience by joining Chinese companies.” When asked why they prefer Chinese companies, this is what Sinta said in an interview with Huxiu. In recent years, with the rise of various capabilities in China, more and more young people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other countries with similar ideas as Sinta have been interested in China and have truly felt China’s strength. “The product strength of Chinese companies is very attractive to talent in Southeast Asia, which may be more important than other soft environments in the company,” said Xu Changmao, founder of Guangzhou Yixian Human Resources, to Huxiu. Before entering a company, local talent cannot experience the soft environment inside the company, but the products that are actually circulating in the market can make people feel the strength and technological capabilities of the company, thus generating a good impression of the company. For many local job seekers, the brand awareness of Chinese companies is even more critical. In addition to the attraction of product strength, promotion mechanism is also an important aspect that attracts local talent in Southeast Asia. Compared with Japanese companies that promote based on seniority and European and American companies that promote relatively slowly, the promotion path of Chinese companies is relatively simple, and the main evaluation standard is how much benefit the employee brings to the company. This also means that young employees who are strong but still young can rise rapidly. This characteristic of Chinese companies is particularly attractive in countries like Vietnam, which are more persistent in promotion and salary increase. According to the talent report released by Glints in 2023, Vietnam has the highest salary increase rate among Southeast Asian countries, at around 30% per year. “Compared with other Southeast Asian countries, Vietnamese value high salaries more and will continue to look for new opportunities for this. They also have the highest acceptance of Chinese company management models and workplace culture,” said Adam. Apart from attracting local talent through soft power, the employment standards of large Chinese companies naturally screen out local high-quality talent. According to a senior executive of a certain large company, the recruitment standard for their Vietnamese team is bilingual (Vietnamese and Chinese), and most bilingual people are local students who come from relatively affluent families, and their education and knowledge are significantly better than the average level. It can be seen that the advantages of Chinese companies in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia are quite obvious. To some extent, it is like the situation of European and American foreign companies in China in the 1980s. This is a good thing and an opportunity for Chinese companies that want to deeply cultivate in Southeast Asian countries. Working from home poses a challenge for Chinese companies

However, these advantages of Chinese companies do not apply in Singapore.

According to Adam’s interview with Hu Xiu, Singaporean high-quality talents (such as those who receive full scholarships in university) receive an average of three job offers, with European and American companies being the first choice due to better benefits, followed by Japanese and Korean companies as the second choice, while Chinese companies do not have an advantage. In other Southeast Asian countries, Chinese companies can hire high-quality local talents by paying salaries at the average social level. However, in Singapore, they have to pay about 20% more in salary.

The reason why Chinese companies find it difficult to recruit talents in the Singaporean job market is largely due to the Chinese-style management. Even more worrying is that the management style commonly used by Chinese companies has also eroded the advantages of Chinese companies in other Southeast Asian countries, and talents in Indonesia and Malaysia are also starting to avoid Chinese companies because of these management styles.

The first conflict between Chinese companies and Southeast Asian talents is the so-called “internal competition culture” in China.

Many founders of companies deeply rooted in the Southeast Asian market often mention the difficulty of managing local employees when communicating with Hu Xiu. These complaints and grievances are mainly focused on the fact that local employees rarely accept overtime, delivery efficiency is not high, and the sense of competition is not strong enough.

The phenomenon of 996 and the whole team working overtime to rush delivery, which is common in Chinese factories, is often opposed in Southeast Asian countries.

This kind of working environment has a lot to do with the increasing importance of work-life balance among Southeast Asian people.

A prominent feature is that the mixed office model is becoming more and more popular in Southeast Asian countries.

The so-called mixed office is a combination of home office, remote office, and full-time office. This model began to rise during the epidemic period, but unlike in China, even after the epidemic ends, the mixed office model continues to be retained in Southeast Asian countries.

Glints talent report shows that among the more than 100 Southeast Asian companies it surveyed, 45% have a mixed office model and only 43% have full-time office work. Among them, Singapore has the highest proportion of mixed office, reaching 63%, while Indonesia accounts for 59%.

“Nowadays in Southeast Asia, if a company doesn’t have a mixed office model, young people’s acceptance will be relatively low, and even be labeled as ‘old-school’,” Adam said with a smile, and in some areas remote work is even more efficient, such as Jakarta, Indonesia, which is a city with very heavy traffic, and many people need to spend four or five hours commuting, so the time spent on the road is even more effective for work.

However, currently, most Chinese companies in Southeast Asia still choose the full-time office model. Apart from the lack of a mature remote work management system, a large part of the reason is that this will make the bosses feel insecure and lack of control.

“Not being able to roll up” is just one of the headaches that Chinese companies face in Southeast Asia. The value that Southeast Asian talent places on stability and long-term development also poses challenges for some Chinese companies in recruitment and management.

For example, in China, the horse racing elimination mechanism (note: multiple projects are being pushed forward simultaneously, and teams with poor performance are cut off) is a common tactic used by many big companies. But in Southeast Asia, this model is not accepted, and they are not willing to accept this type of challenge. According to Adam, if Southeast Asian job seekers learn that a company uses a horse racing elimination model during the application process, they usually won’t take the job. They value job stability very highly.

In addition, in China, only high-end talent often has the confidence to choose between different opportunities, but in Singapore, even ordinary-level talent will scrutinize companies from multiple angles. If the recruiting company cannot provide a clear value system and vision, they will often be passed over.

This has caused many Chinese companies to encounter recruitment crises in Southeast Asia. They only focus on how many resources and abilities job seekers have during recruitment, but do not deeply consider the company’s vision, and cannot provide job seekers with a clear development plan and future. Essentially, this is a manifestation of many Chinese companies’ inability to adapt to two-way selection.

Insufficient localization determination

Although Chinese companies have certain advantages in some Southeast Asian countries, their management styles have also discouraged some local talents. In fact, in the wave of Chinese companies digging into Southeast Asia, localized management often encounters various challenges.

For example, many Chinese companies still send Chinese people to Southeast Asia as executives, but this often brings unexpected crises to the company. Previously, some large Chinese factories offended local religious and cultural taboos because they did not understand the local culture in Southeast Asian countries, and part of the reason was that the decision-makers were Chinese who had no “experience living and working in Southeast Asia”.

This development stage is very similar to when European and American companies first came to China. At that time, most of the foreign executives were Europeans and Americans, which also became an invisible ceiling for foreign companies. But as this model encountered obstacles repeatedly, foreign companies gradually transitioned, first appointing “China experts” as foreign employees, and then directly appointing Chinese people to manage local Chinese companies.

This approach is also suitable for Chinese companies that lack a sense of security but still want to deepen their roots in Southeast Asia. Sending Chinese people without experience in Southeast Asia as executives is the worst choice.

In addition to executive appointments, the pit that Chinese companies often encounter in Southeast Asia is that their entry mentality is not firm enough.

According to Adam’s description, many Chinese companies come to Southeast Asia with a try-it-out mentality, and most of them want to directly apply mature Chinese products to the Southeast Asian market, but this mentality generally disrupts recruitment rhythms and employment standards, and may ultimately encounter significant challenges.

For example, when many Chinese companies first come to Southeast Asia, they only have a few team members, but the first position they recruit for is the BD position (Business Development), hoping that BD can directly bring customer resources to the company. However, good BD talents are not interested in such small teams, so this recruitment strategy often fails.

After a period of time, these Chinese companies will leave Southeast Asia in disappointment because they cannot find Southeast Asian customers, and they will blame the market for being unsuitable.

“We suggest recruiting a team to search for sales leads first, and seeing potential customers often increases confidence,” Adam said.

For many Chinese companies, it is equally important to not constantly compare themselves to the domestic environment, as having a resolute attitude towards entering the market.

China’s speed has created various achievements for Chinese companies, but it does not apply in Southeast Asia. Many Chinese companies’ complaints about Southeast Asian employees are essentially wanting to replicate China’s environment and management style in Southeast Asia. Only by truly adapting to the local pace can a company truly become global.

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