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MEXICO: China Is Hiring; Only Professionals Need Apply

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Feb 19 2011 (IPS) - Mexican pilot Armando Arauz is preparing the thick pile of documents and exams he needs to work for an airline in China.

“The Chinese are very exacting and demanding,” the 41-year-old pilot, who worked for the private Mexicana de Aviación airline until it suspended operations due to financial problems last August, told IPS. “They require a string of technical and practical exams. The medical exam is very thorough.”

Arauz’s case demonstrates that the Asian giant is not only interested in commodities, including oil and minerals, from Latin American countries like Mexico, but also highly skilled workers. Designers, engineers and architects are on the menu of workers that labour contractors are seeking for jobs in China.

The results of different studies “surprisingly show that in the most sophisticated fields, worker incomes are higher in China than in Mexico,” Enrique Dussel Peters, head of the China-Mexico Studies Centre, told IPS.

The Centre, in the economics faculty at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), specialises in economic and trade relations and competition between Mexico and China.

Although there are no hard statistics on labour flows to China from Mexico, human resources firms have been recruiting candidates here to work in China, the world’s second-biggest economy, after the United States and before Japan.

Jair Gutiérrez, 31, designs electronic consoles for a South Korean company that operates in Mexico and sells its products in China. In 2009, he spent six months working in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton), and is now getting ready for another stint there.

“They took me to several factories where I saw the jobs generated by the products I create,” Gutiérrez, who has a computer engineering degree from UNAM, told IPS. “Most of the things they make by hand, and in very rudimentary conditions, although they also have some modern machines.

“Being able to see products that aren’t available in Mexico gives me more ideas for my projects,” Gutiérrez said. “I can buy their products and take them apart, since they’re inexpensive, and learn more from them.

“I really appreciate the experience, I learned new things, and I gained training,” said the computer engineer, who will spend at least a month in China.

But exporting highly skilled labour from Mexico is not easy, because of the strict requisites for working in China, the high costs of moving overseas, and the language barrier. However, one factor in their favour is the shortage of highly skilled workers in that Asian country.

Unemployment stood at five percent in Mexico last year, according to the central bank, even though this country has not yet recovered from the economic problems caused by the global economic crisis that broke out in the United States in 2008.

Mexico is the fourth leading brain drain country in the world, according to the World Bank. Statistics from the National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT) indicate that the country loses an average of 120,000 educated and high-skilled workers a year.

One out of eight Mexican professionals emigrate, mainly to the United States, seeking better working conditions, the public education ministry reports.

Economic growth in China was 10.3 percent in 2010, its highest rate in three years, and growth for 2011 is projected at eight to 10 percent, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the World Bank.

“Going to work somewhere like China is very tempting, because you’re going to a totally different kind of place, they pay really well, and they try to make the job offer attractive, to get people over there,” said Arauz, who worked for Mexicana de Aviación for 15 years and has logged 13,500 flight hours.

The Mexican airline stopped flying in August due to financial difficulties, and its planes and pilots have been grounded since then. Although it is expected to resume operations in the next few weeks, it has downsized significantly.

Representatives of international companies that specialise in the recruitment of air transportation personnel, the Canada-based AeroPersonnel Global and the British Parc Aviation, visited Mexico between September and November and identified a group of candidates.

The contracts offered pilots were for one to three years. China, where some 20 national airlines operate, plans to build around 80 international airports in the next five years.

“Salaries are going up,” Dussel Peters said. “And it is important to keep in mind that China is closing the educational gap, because there are many Chinese nationals who now speak Spanish and have lived and worked in Latin America.”

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