Attracting and Retaining Talent

Post-COVID trends in China’s human resources sector

China has been on a path of relentless development since the early days of economic reforms in the late1970s and its accession to the World Trade Organization. There were few major signs of a slowdown, even during the Asian financial crisis of 1997/1998, until COVID significantly altered the growth pattern. Needless to say, foreign direct investment (FDI) and the related flow of human resources has been a strong catalyst for China’ s remarkable development. When COVID struck in early 2020, the world as we knew it changed. Global travel was heavily restricted, and the slew of unpredictable lockdowns—particularly in China—changed our relationship with work and decimated some of the country’s foreign national communities. Fabian Blake of AMS Group looks at key trends in this area and provides some advice for employers in China hoping to better attract and retain talent.

The‘expat exodus’

In 2022, China witnessed a sharp decrease in its foreign national population, with the most impacted communities being Europeans and Americans, and most noticeably in major metropolises like Shanghai and Beijing.

When Mainland China started to dismantle its COVID-related travel restrictions in early 2023, there was hope that some—if not all—foreign nationals would return or be replaced by new arrivals, but this hope quickly started to fade as China’ s economic recovery failed to rebound to the extent that many experts had anticipated.

Has the ‘expat exodus’ now ended? Are we going to see foreign communities growing in size again? There are no simple answers to these questions, but one can be certain that the vibrancy of foreign national communities is tightly linked to FDI.

The growth rate of FDI into China slowed from 2020 to 2022, with only a marginal improvement, if not a decrease, expected between 2022 and 2023. For example, a recent Bloomberg article noted that foreign enterprises are increasingly moving their profits out of China instead of reinvesting them in their China operations.[1] Further lowering expectations is the fact that most FDI from the EU now comes from a handful of multinational companies and too few small and medium-sized businesses.[2]

Making job postings more attractive

Making important decisions on your career orientation and development can be a daunting experience. The vast majority of job postings, especially for middle or senior management positions, feature the ‘essentials’ , such as a general company introduction, the responsibilities of the position, and the skills and experience required.

Previously, the financial compensation on offer was regarded as an important pre-selection criterion for job seekers, but due to the current circumstances of high youth unemployment and the unprecedented ‘heat’ of the labour market, applicants tend to pay more attention to the intrinsic nature of the job posting.

A lot of what makes a recruitment notice stand out for job seekers has to do with how the company portrays its corporate culture, the work environment for the role, the career development possibilities and even how the company plans to adapt to global challenges such as environmental and social compliance.

Recruitment notices elaborating on these terms appear to attract more attention, allowing for more efficient matchmaking between candidates’ capabilities and company requirements.

Employee expectations on flexible/remote work

Undoubtably, the COVID years have impacted how individuals interact with the workplace. The boundaries between private life and work have become increasingly blurred. In addition, the digitalisation of the workplace makes it possible for more work to be done online in some sectors and roles.

For functions that do not necessarily require a constant presence in the workplace, there is an increasing trend towards more flexible and remote work being implemented. In the future, employers will need to demonstrate more flexibility in their work practices while relying more and more on a‘result-orientated’approach for an employee’ s performance assessment.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) trends for 2024

With the increased awareness of the impact of climate change on society, candidates and potential employees are demonstrating a heightened interest in companies’ declared environmental policies. For example, individuals are adopting a myriad of initiatives, such as increasingly choosing electric cars and trying to recycle more. Even if job applicants do not place much weight on ‘green’ aspects when searching for a position, they often still consider a company that has a solid ESG strategy as a ‘great place to work’.


If there is really one particular aspect that comes paired with career development, it is the opportunity for a talent (or a talent in the making) to develop him/herself and learn a multitude of skills. There is certainly a movement towards higher levels of digitalisation, or thinking ‘greener’, and employee awareness is playing an important role in companies’ sustainable transformations. It is highly recommended that companies offer their employees related training to achieve their development targets.


Even if some of these trends and suggestions for employers can further increase the chances of attracting and retaining talent, there is still a lot that can be done to better integrate the academic and professional sectors. China has no shortage of new graduates and talent, and achieving higher levels of integration between tertiary education and employers would certainly further contribute to the development of companies across a multitude of sectors.

Fabian Blake is a managing director with AMS Group, a full-service contract manufacturing company with a product development capability. AMS Group is headquartered in Amsterdam and our main manufacturing facility is in Foshan. Our clients include many top brands with a diverse product portfolio. We bring our clients’ products to mass production by managing the triple constraint of cost, quality and schedule. We pride ourselves on a professional service as integrators of European innovation and Asian manufacturing excellence.

[1] China Foreign Investment Gauge Turns Negative For First Time, Bloomberg, 3rd November 2023, viewed 6th November 2023, <>

[2] European Business in China Position Paper 2023/2024, European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, 20th September 2023, viewed 6th November 2023, <>