Published February 5, 2011

[B][SIZE="5"]Answering the call of the Wild Wild East[/SIZE][/B]

[B]More young Americans and Europeans are heading to Asia for work and executive education[/B]


ITALIAN Piero Guizetti is an MBA graduate who runs his own consulting firm - Guizetti & Associates India - in Mumbai.

Not too long ago, the internationally mobile graduate's dream was more likely to involve New York's Wall Street instead of Mumbai's Bandra.

This generation's dream - shaped by China and India's rise against the apparent relative decline of the industrialised West - is seeing more Piero Guizettis pop up in cities across Asia.

Last July, the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed senior executives of MNCs in 77 countries and found that the top three expatriate 'hot spots' were China, 'Other Asia' - a category that excluded China, India and Japan - and India.

Some 35 per cent of respondents believe China to be one of the top three destinations for their company's overseas representatives, followed by Other Asia (32 per cent) and India (16 per cent), said the report.

Besides seeking expatriate postings, more foreigners are finding their way to Asia by directly applying for jobs in the region, say recruitment agencies based here.

'In view of the strong regional growth, there is certainly increasing interest from candidates all over the world to work in Asia - in particular, Singapore and Hong Kong, which are positioned as the financial and business hubs of the region,' said Tim Hird, managing director of Robert Half Singapore and Japan.

Mr Hird added that in the last 12 months, Robert Half has noted a 200 per cent increase in job applications from US and European candidates.

Peony Lim, a director at Robert Walters in Singapore, said that over the past year, the firm has observed a 20-50 per cent increase in the number of resumes from North America and Western Europe.

A similar picture is emerging in China and India.

'In my six years at Stanton Chase in Delhi, I have seen a 50-75 per cent increase in the number of overseas applicants,' said Sanjay R Shastry, regional vice-president and Asia Pacific director for the executive search firm. 'These are predominantly from the US and Europe.'

Chinese recruitment consultancy JLJ Group - which has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Boston - said that across the board, overseas applicants have more than doubled compared to five years ago.

'Many of these people are earning local pay, or between that of local and expatriate pay. In China, we call them 'half-pats',' said JLJ partner AJ Hu.

Half-pats earn less than what they might have in their home countries, but it is the potential promised by a fast-growing economy that is proving to be the draw.

'As a locally hired foreigner, pay and benefits are probably equal to or lower than what I might get in Singapore,' said Singaporean Xanne Lim, who has been working in Shanghai's social media scene for the past two years. 'But Shanghai is so dynamic and full of energy that I haven't gotten enough of it.'

Besides the promise of adventure, some look to a stint in China and India for career development and personal growth.

Michael Melin returned to Sweden in 2010 after a three-year posting to Bangalore. 'In general, returning expatriates boost their careers within one year,' said the Volvo manager. 'And in terms of personal growth, I think my time in India has helped me learn a lot.'

The allure of Asia might also be boosted by dim job prospects in the West.

The US Bureau of Labour Statistics reported last December that overall graduate unemployment - at 5.1 per cent - is at its highest level since 1970. Last month, the UK's Office for National Statistics revealed that one in five new graduates was without a job in the third quarter of 2010.

However, job-seekers from the West looking for an easier job market to crack should not put all their eggs in the Asian basket.

As stubbornly high graduate unemployment rates cause countries like the UK to institute protectionist measures that reduce the number of skilled workers from outside the EU, more talent of Asian origin is opting to return home, heating up the competition for choice jobs.

Hong Kong resident Jeremy Poon - who is a British citizen - is a prime example. The Cambridge history graduate said that all the internships he did so far were based in Hong Kong, where firms - particularly those with China connections - were eager to take new interns.

'Although I shall carry on looking for jobs in both Asia and Europe, I look at the Asian job market with a lot more optimism,' he said.

With more international graduates flocking to Asia (especially China and India) for jobs, many are also opting for an executive education in the region to get a leg up on the competition.

'Since 2006, we have seen a three-fold increase in the number of North American applicants for our NUS MBA and more than a four-fold increase in European applicants,' said Lim Yue Wen, director of graduate studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

Darren Joe, marketing and admissions manager of the MBA programme at the Singapore Management University, said the number of American students has tripled to almost 8 per cent, compared to their pioneer batch in 2008. 'Students from the US and Europe have all stayed in Singapore to work,' said Mr Joe.

Even Asian business schools traditionally not on the radar of international students are getting more attention.

'International students currently make up 37 per cent of the student population,' said Yuan Mei, a spokeswoman for the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. 'This is a 42 per cent increase from last year, and a 100 per cent increase from five years ago.'

VK Menon, senior director of admissions and career advancement services at the Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB), told BT that they have witnessed 'a 20 per cent increase in the number of international applicants over the past year'.

One of them is Mr Guizetti, who graduated in 2007. He said he chose the ISB because 'India is heading towards the centre of the world'.

Equally young, restless and culturally ambidextrous is Mr Poon, who is currently finishing up a masters degree at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. 'I hold the view that it does not really matter where one works in today's globalised world,' he said. 'Nevertheless it does seem that the world's focus is increasingly moving towards Asia.'