East China Country Director:
Dr. Brian Schwartz
Suzhou Success Partners Consulting Company
The news from East China, hardly differentiated from the rest of this vast country, is the tsunami of COVID infections after three years of holding off mass outbreaks during President Xi’s Zero COVID Tolerance policy. The success in holding back the COVID floodgates has undoubtedly saved millions of lives but the social and economic costs have been increasingly high.
This is now a stunned country as the last four weeks have found a complete turnaround in government policy with governments from local to provincial to central seemingly caught unawares of the sudden dropping of what had been very tight restrictions to contain the virus. People have been basically left to their own devices as COVID sweeps through large segments of the population unchecked with hospitals, public health centers, pharmacies, funeral homes and crematoriums unprepared and increasingly overwhelmed. Service industries are especially hard hit and manufacturing is slowed down to levels unseen in years. While the new policy opens everything up, too many people are either sick or in self-imposed isolation to keep society functioning fully.
While millions of people were increasingly upset at the tight restrictions and lockdowns and quarantines in place back in November, the government response of completely opening up has produced strong reactions at all levels of society due to the absence of public health guidance in many areas and lack of reporting on numbers of infections, hospital capacities, ICU bed counts, deaths, etc. The economic slowdown is palpable and youth unemployment soaring near to 20%. This part of China, likely reflecting the entire country, appears to be in a state of shock.
Career services professionals are experiencing enormous challenges in a social environment that is rapidly changing. A confluence of factors are serving to undermine the bullish sense of growth and prosperity that has carried China forward for decades. China’s demographics are especially challenging as it is becoming an increasingly aging society. Coupled with the former one child policy (which was retired in 2015) and a stagnant and inadequate birth-rate, pressures are building on the young workforce to handle not only their own children but often two sets of aging parents in an economy beset not only with the ravages of COVID but with a mounting debt crisis that leaves more and more people with less and less savings.
This has led to two “movements” among the younger people, “tang ping” or “lying flat” and “bai lan” or “let it rot”. The “lying flat” phenomenon parallels the so-called “Great Resignation” or “Quiet Quitting” of developed nations. Seemingly nihilistic, more and more young people are opting out of the rat race of competition and relentless pursuit of consumer goods, status and wealth. The “lying flat” movement has led to an even more serious rejection of cultural norms known as the “let it rot” movement that is turning its back on the whole system, hoping it will collapse.
What both movements suggest is that large segments of youth are losing hope for the kind of future their parents had hoped for them. The generational divide is widening and it is most difficult to see where all this is going in terms of how people view the personal and work sides of their lives. Inequality of wealth and opportunity are becoming more apparent with expected social consequences emerging.
The situation in East China has been problematical since the outbreak of the Omicron Variant of Covid in February of this year. A wave of lockdowns of varied severity have been imposed on many of the cities and counties in East China with the most serious outbreak in Shanghai in March. However, my city of Suzhou has been locked down except for ½ day since February 14th. The crisis has seen major disruptions to the national economy of China and to many local economies.
The entire service sector is in a drastic tailspin as normal direct customer contact is generally restricted if not impossible during this time. In Suzhou, a city of 15 million neighboring Shanghai (25 million residents) many malls are either shut down or only have limited ground floor businesses open. There is no dining indoors so restaurants that are able, only have takeout or delivery services. However, delivery services have been disrupted as have taxi services and some public transportation suspended as residents have been urged to work from home and only leave their compounds for urgent or emergency matters. There is no food emergence as exists in Shanghai where even those with vast wealth have had difficulty getting enough food for themselves and their families. Employment is severely cut back but recruiting, though conducted primarily online, continues on a virtual basis as there is a mass exodus of foreigners back to their home countries. The political implications of Shanghai’s far less effective Covid response are enormous as President Xi’s political base substantially includes Shanghai’s leadership and adjoining Zhejiang’s provincial leadership as well. The serious undermining of confidence in their municipal government has caused large problems for the ascension of Shanghai’s leadership for very high-level promotions to national governmental bodies this coming fall for the once every 5 year political assignments. President Xi is seeking a third 5-year term.
Our attempts to organize an All China Career Development Association has been put in mothballs as there is little to no energy to deal with survival issues of practitioners and associated HR professionals as life here takes on a form of suspended animation not unlike what was common in the West at the height of their struggle with Covid. Complicating life here and also affecting the local and national economy is the war in Ukraine where the world holds its breath as China and India basically sit on the sidelines while Russia and Ukraine, backed by NATO, slug it out. China has clearly signalled that it wants to avoid being impacted by the deep sanctions inflicted on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine with GDP projections being reduced from 5.5 to 4.8 and even 4.4% for the year. China will have its largest class of university graduates, approaching 10 million, in July, 2022 and has the need to generate 13 million new jobs. With its real estate sector in a serious downturn and stock market losing and inflation beginning to hit all citizens, there is an increased concern that China is heading for a recession. The work of career and life design counselors and coaches will be severely impacted by a dynamically changing economic and social landscape.
As I was just appointed a few weeks ago there has been little time to gather information. Following through on Marilyn Maze’s introduction, I introduced myself to PAC’s Ivy Liao requesting their help in organizing an all-China conference in 2022 of career services professionals. In addition, I have contacted our South China Country Representative, Elisabeth Montgomery, who has pledged her support for such a conference.>
I am composing an email to go to our more than 400 Suzhou Success Partners graduates and training attendees inviting them to become members of APCDA in a kick off to recruit at least 100 new East China members before the end of this year.
December 13-14, 2019, People Achievement Consulting (PAC) held its 3rd Annual International Career Development Conference in Shanghai.
As the strategic partner of NCDA since 2011, PAC offers the Facilitating Career Development training program and credentialing services in China and beyond. This year’s conference discussed opportunities and challenges for the career development industry in China. From an industrial perspective, keynote speakers elaborated the global trend of talent development and challenges caused by Artificial Intelligence. From the educational perspective, discussions focused on the crucial role of career education in national educational development strategies and needs for career education and guidance in school settings as responds to the college entrance exam policy reformation in Mainland China. Front-line practitioners also shared successful experience and reflections during breakout sessions of the two-day conference followed by workshops. Attendees demonstrated their aspiration to elevate their practical abilities and skills.
APCDA was represented at this year’s conference by the Keynote Speaker Prof. Rebecca Dedmond and her in-depth observations on the global trend of educational reformation. Past President and Research Committee Chair Prof. Hsiu-Lan (Shelley) Tien, Macao Representative Dr. Claire Ouyang, and Taiwan Representative Anne Chen also attended the conference.
Prof. Hsiu-Lan Tien received the Outstanding Chinese Career Development Professional Award for her continuous devotion to nurturing and inspiring career scholars and practitioners in China and beyond. This award aims to honor and pass down an individual’s profound academic influence in the field of career development on Chinese cultural society. Prof. Tien shared her insights with the audience about the transforming yet solid role of career counselors nowadays after receiving this award. She also provided a workshop introducing updated educational policies and trends which will be implemented in career curriculum design in Taiwan after the conference. Those sharing received warm responses from attendees.