Having worked in study abroad centers in Taiwan for a number of years, I came into contact with many locals looking to go abroad in places such as the US and UK to earn higher degrees, most notably in the fields of business and marketing. Throughout most of those encounters, students said they were looking to learn value-added skills to either take over a family business in the future or come back to Taiwan and help local companies further develop as competition from China increases.
For most of the students, they think Taiwan companies can no longer simply do business in their homeland and need to instead start thinking of ways to expand abroad into markets ranging from North America, Europe and Southeast Asia. Doing a program abroad compared to one in Taiwan would allow them to learn from experienced individuals in the market who possess industry knowledge and insight they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get in Taiwan, the students often said, adding that they could also improve their language skills.
Such students have more optimistic views about their job prospects in Taiwan despite expected challenges in the market. A lot of them do come from better off families who run their own companies but there are also quite a few that are taking big steps to invest in their education out of belief it will help them succeed in the future, whether it be in their own ventures or with another company.
Outside of working from the study abroad center is another story. Recently, Taiwan’s media has been reporting on the ongoing complaints of recent graduates who make NT$22,000 (US$725) a month upon graduation. They claim the amount is pretty much the same if one were to work full-time at say a fast food restaurant, and therefore believe their degrees are pointless. These types of people also complain that Taiwan bosses are 可怕 “frightening” for giving such wages even though the company can afford much more. More so, these kinds of students don’t always have the ability to study abroad and are overall pessimistic they will make more than NT$40,000-50,000 a month later in life.
Social mentality of bosses
It is true that a large number of Chinese and Taiwanese companies often only give the bare minimum salary to employees. At one point when I was interviewing for different companies in Taiwan I visited a medical equipment manufacturer that was being run by a “very, very, very” rich man in Taiwan who apparently opened this company just out of interest, according to the interviewer, adding that the company was his 38th company. I thought to myself wow what a great opportunity to finally get a high-paying job in Taiwan..finally. Wrong. The interviewer told me that I would receive the bare minimum for white-collar foreign workers in Taiwan (NT$50,000) and that I would be working long hours.
Without getting too much into my story, it really opened my eyes to some of the attitudes employers have throughout the island. Many scholars and people who have made it big throughout the island will say that young people nowadays are just not as ambitious anymore and that they complain too much. No doubt there are these types of people, and beforehand I was way more inclined to think that was the case, but after that interview along with countless other interviews where I was faced with the same scenario it began to look like this was more of a cultural mentality rather than Taiwan’s economy suffering.
In China and Taiwan, employers believe that if you won’t take the opportunity then someone else will. They also believe they should not pay workers more than the standard set by the government, which also applies to vacation days (believe me, if Taiwan employers weren’t required they probably wouldn’t issue time off). Taiwanese and Chinese employers tend to make decisions regarding their employees in terms of what the bare minimum they can get away with and do not really have a sense of moral judgment in giving workers benefits unless it is required of them. In some cases, however, the employers will pay high salaries to very specialized personnel, which is increasingly popular in China but still quite low in Taiwan. Many foreigners complain about this and increasingly do not want anything to do with the island yet alone Taiwanese who feel desperate and unsure about what to do.
Despite the more optimistic group stating they have confidence in their futures, many of them were also talking from a standpoint that the advanced degree would allow them to become more competitive in the market and that if they didn’t have it they would never see the opportunity of making more than the market average.
A way out?
Taiwan employers are hurting themselves by giving their employees the bare minimum. It is not so much that companies throughout the island are startups and lacking funds (although this does occur) as much as it is way more about the mindset employers have towards their employees. In China, companies are increasing incentives for foreign workers including Taiwanese to work in the nation so that it may become more competitive. This has also happened in Hong Kong and Singapore over the last decade and has proven extremely successful for the economies in those places. Moreover, locals in these places negotiate higher wage and have better standards of living compared to the bare minimum most workers receive in Taiwan.
There needs to be a social change in mentality. There is so much wealth in Taiwan and the ones who have made it are living well, so much that there is still enough wealth to be spread among the island, creating jobs and a more stable economy, so the situation is still quite ok. However, the unnecessary social attitude towards wages needs to come to an end not only for fairness to Taiwan’s society but also in order to avoid a brain drain throughout the island as a result of locals going elsewhere to work, such as in China and Singapore. If not, Taiwan may very well lose out its economy to other nations as well as its talent and standard of living that it was once accustomed to.