It seems that some of the vast numbers of workers in China are beginning to tread a very familiar sounding path.

China has long been seen as a deep well of cheap labour that has driven, and will continue to drive, the Chinese economy forward.

But now it transpires that many employers are looking to replace their workers with machines and robots to cut down on the cost and problems of employing people. Those that can’t afford to are actually facing a ‘labour-crunch’ in what the West sees as a country of never ending labour resources and consumers that will somehow save them from bankruptcy.

China Daily reports the story of a French factory owner, Nicolas Mazeaud [1], who says of the modern young Chinese worker "Some of these turn up with colorful, dyed hair. They work maybe two days and then they leave. They want to be DJs instead and work in some club at night." Sounds like X-Factor has well and truly arrived in China.

Mazeaud had initially set up in China’s Pearl River Delta (PRD) because of abundant cheap labour, raw materials and well supported logistics.

But now the advantages of one of these main drivers has been eroded by rising minimum wages and, more importantly, a more educated but less willing work-force.

Gone are the days of a willing and pliant work-force. Mazeaud, who employs 100 people said "A couple of years ago, people would come to work in a factory without thinking that this would be a bad job for them. They would be happy to work in a factory. But in the past year or two, the younger people who are a little more educated are not so willing to work in factories anymore. I guess they prefer office or restaurant jobs,"

"So what you get when you hire workers for the factory are uneducated people, older; or younger ones who are not willing to work hard.”

"We get a lot of younger people, and they think they can just buy a house, do nothing, wait one year and then sell it for a big profit. So they don't understand that they have to work hard to make money. They don't want to work in a factory. They prefer to work in a restaurant or shop because it can seem much easier than factory work."

He now employs older women with families as they respect the job and work hard.

Martijn van der Woude heads a Shenzhen-based human resources company (ShangZhi HR Solutions) and told China Daily that the labour crunch is a major problem that his clients are facing every day. It adds to rapidly rising costs in the region that are also fuelled by rising taxes and inflation.

Chen Guanghan, an economics professor and director of the centre for studies of Hong Kong, Macao and the Pearl River Delta at Sun Yat-sen University, said that using more machines and robots for businesses that can afford them is the "inevitable way to go for enterprises in the region".

In a decade or so’s time, if not before, we may well see astronomic numbers of unemployed and discontented young Chinese people. Unless of course they all go to university then just buy houses with the money from their service industry jobs.

[1] http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2011-10/07/content_13843284.htm

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