China’s edge: an efficient clerical labour force

I think no one would dispute that one of the competitive advantages of China in the business world is that it has an abundant supply of cheap labour force. This advantage is clearly shown in the manufacturing sector as China is now the largest manufacturing country in the world.

This advantage is also evident in the commercial sector. I am saying that from my personal experience.  In my business, I have been assisting my China clients to buy foreign made parts through my US principal, AMRO Supply Inc, a procurement agent.  I have advised my China clients umpteen times that one way to save costs is to have their orders from different suppliers consolidated in one shipment, in which way, among others things, they would save on administration costs. The concept is that instead of having the client’s administration staff handle ten sets of documents and ten shipments for purchases from ten suppliers, if they consolidate them in one order, they need only to handle one set of documents and one shipment, likewise for managers who supervise them. At the end of the day, less documents or works means less headaches. Further by consolidation, over the long run, the company could reduce its headcount, thereby improving its bottom line. I shall call this concept the said concept hereinbelow. However, a lot of my China clients are unconvinced of the said concept.

I have discussed the above issue with my US principal. I was told that our US company has no problem getting the said concept across to clients in developed countries like the US and those in Europe as their costs for clerical staff are understandably high. As for clients in developing countries, like in South East Asia, which related costs are low, their managers have no problem understanding the said concept as they realize that less works means less problems, as I said above.

Then the question is why Chinese managers do not buy the said concept. Often times, we received from our Chinese clients one order for one supplier, which I was told by my US principal, is uncommon for clients for the rest of the world. After much discussion, the only conclusion we can draw is that saving on the related administration costs apparently is a non factor to our Chinese clients and, with no disrespect to my fellow countrymen, the reason is that the costs for their clerical staff are cheap. Nonetheless, the China clerical staff, though making low salaries, they are highly efficient, which make them probably the most cost effective among their counterparts in the world, and that is what counts. In some parts of the world, one may hire similar staff at much lower cost, but if they are not productive it would not be meaningful.

From my personal experience, I vouch for that. I deal with client’s clerical staff day in and day out. Most of the clerks whom I deal with are freshly graduated from universities with an English degree or an international business degree (and English proficiency is a must), therefore, their English standard is high. Most of them make about USD600 a month (comparing to say USD3000 in the US or USD1500 in Hong Kong). Most of them are hardworking and have high aspirations. A lot of them take the entry level job as a stepping stone to bigger things. They are willing to go extra mile to get works done so as to impress on their managers. It is not unusual for them to start work at eight in the morning until six or seven in the evening and working on Saturdays and Sundays are not unacceptable to them. As a matter of fact a clerk of my client has a habit of sending me emails at 11 o’clock or even midnight from his home.

Further, almost all my China counterparts readily provide me with their cellular numbers, junior staff included. As a matter of fact, most of them have their cellular numbers printed on their business cards. In case of urgency I can always call them outside office hours. I think the same cannot be said for most employees, especially the clerical staff, for other countries, as once they leave the office they want nothing to do with business.

Further, it is common practice for a Chinese client to deal with more than one procurement agent. Again this could be handled efficiently thanks to those high caliber clerical staff. As a result of this, because of competition, these clients are getting very competitive prices, which I hate to say is not to my liking. Often times, they could pick the agent whoever provides the best price to them for one particular item. This is also one of the reasons that my Chinese clients are not enthusiastic about the said concept as the price advantages they gain from dealing with more than one agent outweigh the costs they could save on consolidation.

Finally, I have a lot of respect for my compatriot counterparts, who are so dedicated to their jobs. I think their dedications have given China an edge, which makes the country so competitive in the commercial world.

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