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Chinese employers sought a million hard core AI techies in five years

Pay is middling, hours are long, but millions of jobs are out there

Chinese employers have recently advertised for nearly a million employees with technical AI skills, according to an analysis from US think tank the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET).

The think tank sought to better understand China's AI workforce, to better comprehend the industry landscape, and to make sense of what China's needs mean for US demand for AI talent.

"The AI workforce is global and in high demand, and a large share of top-tier technical talent in the United States is foreign-born. Given China is a major producer of AI-skilled talent, understanding its AI workforce could provide US policymakers with important insight," states a CSET Issue Brief titled "China's AI Workforce Assessing Demand for AI Talent".

The document explains that such assessments are not easy given limited and opaque information streams from sources like Chinese ministries, state-sponsored media and anecdotal reporting. CSET researchers therefore turned to public job postings – a whopping 6.8 million of them posted between September 2016 and July 2021 – to determine how many were AI-related.

Around 30 percent required some element of AI skill. Almost a million – 955,0000 – were technical in nature and 36,000 were related to AI-related applications such as machine learning and robotics.

Most of the jobs were junior or entry level positions. CSET reckons this doesn't mean other jobs don't exist in bountiful numbers, but rather a reflection that more senior roles aren't advertised on jobs boards.

"Moreover, the high share of junior-level postings could point to a pervasiveness of an expected intensive work ethic targeted toward younger talent, and could reflect the large supply of college graduates entering the labor market each year for employers to choose from," said CSET. "This could reflect a preference for talent willing to practice the arduous 9-9-6 (nine to nine, six days a week) informal but expected work schedule pervasive in the Chinese tech community," explained the think tank.

CSET also found that most AI design, development and deployment jobs in China required at least a bachelor's degree – meaning that a four-year degree acts as a "gatekeeper" to such careers.

The jobs were geographically concentrated around major Chinese AI companies and universities. Sixty-percent of technical postings were in Guangdong Province, Shanghai Municipality, and Jiangsu Province. Median salaries in Shanghai and Beijing were the highest – as one might expect, since jobs in urban areas need to meet the cost of city living.

An AI worker with a design, development, or deployment role as described in the job postings could earn between $20,000 to $33,000 in Shanghai versus $8,300 to $18,600 in Heilongjiang Province.

CSET reckons understanding these factors will reveal what is driving demand for AI talent beyond government strategic plans, and how tweaking these factors could shape supply and demand.

"Industrial development planning and execution is happening at the local government level, and a deeper understanding of those efforts could also contribute to broader understanding of China's demand for AI talent," said the org.

CSET plans further deep dives into China's AI workforce – including closer looks into geographic distributions, AI applications that are sought after, desired skills and fields of study, and companies on the hunt for workers. ®

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