I have become something of a regular contributor to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai’s bimonthly newsletter. In the most recent edition, which can be found online now in Flash format or downloaded as a PDF, I am again in the Reflection column on the final page.

This issue’s theme is the employment situation in China so I decided to write about some of the job trends I find interesting right now (both for local Chinese and expat residents).

The first is shan yun -

Recently a new phrase has popped up in the Chinese lexicon, shan yun, which I’ll liberally translate as “crisis pregnancy,” meaning having a baby during the economic crisis. Why is this significant? Under the new employment law which went into effect January 1 2008, women are granted extended legal protections and may not be terminated during pregnancy or maternity leave, offering a year or more of safe employment. The unforeseen result? Employers already facing difficulty are rife with sudden marriages and pregnancies. No data is available yet but I’ll wager that 2009 will have seen a mini baby boom among urban professionals.

While writing this article I also found myself remembering my time spent in Chicago and Seattle during the dot-com boom. Back then, job-hopping was practically an institution, with lavish signing bonuses. One company even gave you a Porsche if you joined their firm, and good computer programmers were so scarce that massive H1B visa quotas were primarily allocated to Indian software engineers. In China, during the last four years I’ve been here, wages and voluntary turnover were steadily increasing in the major cities, until the global economic crisis hit, anyway:

It wasn’t so long ago that job websites such as 51jobs.com advertised themselves to candidates with a kind of euphoric “Enjoy life, try switching jobs!” tone. It all seemed reminiscent of dot-com boom tales of copy-editors becoming high-tech executives and making paper millions on stock options. But as in the dot-com bust of 2001, in Shanghai today jobs are hard to find, and the people with them are head-down and hard at work in their cubicles, assiduously trying to avoid “prairie dogging” – sticking one’s head up could mean getting it chopped off. One Canadian employer told me that voluntary job turnover has dropped to zero at his firm in the last three months. Some employers are probably enjoying this new era of stable employees who do not leave at the drop of a yuan.

Quite a change in attitude among employees. Search firms are also in a perilous situation, with cutbacks among even senior recruiting professionals. The new tone sometimes manifests itself in amusing ways. One example: At jobs website zhaopin.com, they’ve adjusted their advertising, from the picture on the left, saying “How can you get lucky in your future career? Once you are certain, job-hop again!” to the advertising below, with the tagline reading, “How about letting a good job find you?” And there’s now a cute mascot instead of the over-the-top jumping metaphors of Monopoly or Kung-fu flying. I imagine the mascot is there as if to say, “I’m your guardian angel in this horrible job market!” Reassuring.

For foreigners working in China, myself included, the employment landscape is changing but is by no means dire. I still hear lots of stories of young expats being transferred to China with hefty rent and living allowances, while for those in China already, Chinese companies are actually becoming an attractive option as so many multinational firms have frozen their hiring until the financial crisis ends. Chinese web-portal Alibaba is hiring 5000 new employees this year, I hear. Or you can always try a job fair:

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