LIVE FROM HUAWEI CONNECT 2018, SHANGHAI: Business leaders explained China faces a severe shortage of artificial intelligence (AI) experts as demand picks up, with salaries rising rapidly for experienced staff as companies compete for top talent.

Wang Qian, co-founder and head of commercial strategy at Maimai (pictured), said the number of AI positions that can’t be filled hit about 5 million this year, up from just several hundred thousand a few years ago.

Job candidates in China are no longer sending resumes to companies, instead joining various social networking platforms like Maimai, she said noting enterprises in China now are sourcing 70 per cent to 80 per cent of new talent from such platforms.

Maimai has 50 million registered high-tech members (representing about half of its total membership) and is often compared to US-based LinkedIn. In August it announced it planned to list in the US.

Wang said it has matched about 90,000 applicants with more than 1,000 companies. It also uses AI technology to develop intelligent algorithms to connect enterprises with candidates, she said.

Research from Tsinghua University in June found 1,011 AI enterprises in China accounted for 60 per cent of worldwide AI investment from 2013 to Q1 2018. Nearly 60 per cent of the country’s AI employment is concentrated in Beijing.

Wang acknowledged many companies are attracting talent by offering better compensation, but noted they need to improve efficiency to avoid taking a hit on their bottom-lines.

New approach
Hao LV, CIO of China-based facial and speech recognition software developer Yitu Technology (pictured, right), suggested the place to develop talent is within the industry, not necessarily at universities.

Yitu Technology found many PhD candidates lack certain skillsets and can’t do some basic modelling exercises it requires of all new hires, he said. About 90 per cent of its AI engineers don’t have postgraduate degrees, which helps keep its costs down.

He noted widespread use of AI has increased system complexity and “changed the way we write code. We now use data to generate code, which is new”.

Areas requiring AI talent include data labelling; machine learning; parallel computing; data analysis; algorithm design; big data and product engineering.

Wang said salaries for AI engineers with three-to-five years of experience are twice that of new hires, while those with ten years in the industry make as much as four-times more.