HCMC struggling to attract, retain talents

By Thu Hang   May 31, 2022 | 04:52 pm PT
Low income and complicated procedures are among reasons experts are not interested in a program to attract talents in Ho Chi Minh City.

In 2014, HCMC launched a program to lure talents to work in public agencies on a trial basis under Decision 5715.

Via the program, the city had recruited four experts for the BioTechnology Center of HCMC, one of them living and working in Vietnam and the other three Vietnamese living in Canada, Australia and the U.S.

The four experts, all men, had helped the center establish and form a number of new programs involving nano and materials biotechnology, and molecular biology, and set the direction in cancer research.

Experts at the BioTechnology Center of HCMC. Photo by the center

Experts at the BioTechnology Center of HCMC. Photo by the center

They had made contributions for the center to have many articles published in prestigious scientific journals.

"However, when the program ended the pilot phase after five years and entered the official phase, they all quit due to low income," said Nguyen Dang Quan, the center's director.

The four were among a small number of talents HCMC managed to recruit under Decision 5715, and among many who quit.

During five years of the trial phase, the city attracted 19 scientists. After the official phase was launched in 2019, 14 took turns to quit.

The city has not been able to recruit any new talents while it is in need of 20.

Hoang The Ban, one of the five experts that are still staying in the city's talent program, said the remuneration regime and the attraction process are barriers that made people less interested in the program.

The most obvious change he noticed was income disparity.

In the pilot program, experts can get the highest salary of VND150 million ($6,470) per month but with the official program, talented people, professors, and associate professors are entitled to level 2 of the salary coefficient of state worker, which means VND13-14 million per month, besides an initial allowance of VND100 million.

"This salary is only equivalent to the income of an engineer working for foreign companies and is too low compared to the regional and global standard for expert incomes," he said.

In addition to the initial support of VND100 million, Ban did not receive any other benefits.

Hoang The Ban, senior expert at the Ho Chi Minh City Hi-Tech Park in Thu Duc City. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Hang

Hoang The Ban, senior expert at the Ho Chi Minh City Hi-Tech Park in Thu Duc City. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Hang

Besides the low income, the complicated recruitment process is also an obstacle for applicants, Ban said.

During the pilot phase, it took him only two months from applying to starting work, while the official program cost him two years until he could sign a contract.

"The five-step process involving many parties, including the Selection and Attraction Council, chaired by the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Home Affairs, and the city People's Committee of HCMC could easily cause frustration for many people," he said.

Quan of BioTechnology Center said the "cumbersome selection procedure, which involves many steps that require experts to show up for interviews and prove their capacities, are unreasonable."

Experts applying to the program are all successful people and hold a certain reputation and if the city wants them to quit their current job to work for it, then the cumbersome process and unattractive regime will not help, he said.

Huynh Thanh Nhan, director of the Department of Home Affairs, an agency that advises on attracting experts to the City People's Committee, admitted that the city has faced difficulties attracting talents as some agencies are "inexperienced and not fully prepared."

Experts, meanwhile, have many opportunities and therefore often prioritize chances to work at research institutes, universities and organizations in developed countries, he added.

One of the four experts who came to work for BioTechnology Center in 2004, Nguyen Quoc Binh, was a former leading expert in gene transfer research on plants at Laval University, Quebec City of Canada.

He sold his home and all properties in Canada, bringing his family back to Vietnam in 2004 to devote to a center that the city's leaders at the time touted as "going to remain ahead of time in 20 years."

Thanks to his contribution, the center has brought a series of projects serving agriculture development to life, including production of vaccines against pus-filled liver disease for pangasius and breeding orchid species aside from manufacturing diabetes and hepatitis medicine for humans.

In 2014, as Binh turned 60, the city let him retire, even when he had insisted that he could continue working.

Regarding the attraction policy of HCMC, Binh said that employing units have not been able to escape the administrative mechanism, keeping talents from developing to their full capacity.

This makes it difficult for experts, especially those who have been abroad, to work in state agencies.

"The invited experts need to have their own space, financial control, and relatively independent decision," he said.

"The program will not work if the city invites talented people to come to work but whenever they propose a new idea, the city would say no because of this or that barrier," he said.

Saying that the talent attraction program of HCMC has "failed," Do Thien Anh Tuan, a lecturer at Fulbright Vietnam University, said the city "should use experts to lure experts" as it would not be possible to create a breakthrough if the city still assigns state departments to run the program.

He suggested the city forms an independent research unit to develop the project and then let state departments give comments to ensure feasibility while the city administration makes approvals later.

Chairwoman of the city’s legislative People’s Council, Nguyen Thi Le, said the city’s talent attraction program "is a good and complete policy," but with the current market mechanism, the project’s capital sources will prevent it from luring candidates.

She asked the city People's Committee, the executive arm, to evaluate practical results to propose appropriate policies.

This year, the program will expire.

HCMC is working on a new program and will submit the plan to the national legislative National Assembly later this year.

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