Business & Recruitment Trends in China’s Plastics Industry

The Chinaplas trade fair, held in Shanghai this year, gives a good glimpse into business and recruitment trends in China’s plastics industry. Read on to see some of the insights we walked away with after our visit.

When it comes to plastics trade fairs, it doesn’t get much bigger than Chinaplas in Shanghai.

More than 380,000 sq.m of exhibition space, 4,400 exhibitors, 0.25 million professional visitors – and the buzz this year, compared to last year’s Chinaplas in Shenzhen, was palpable!

Which brings us to our first takeaway.

1. Visiting China for business has gotten much easier

Chinaplas 2023 was still troubled with hard-to-get visas and other practical hurdles. Many of our clients and partners flying in from abroad had trouble making payments through Alipay or WeChat.

This year, we were pleased to see the halls filled again with noticeably more foreigners, as China’s relaxed visa policies and easier mobile payments for visitors are starting to pay off.

We enjoyed reconnecting with overseas friends and clients from the industry, including Florian Mikulasch of VDMA– a cooperation partner we’ve been lucky to support for 10 years now for their China HR and Salary Survey.

2. Leadership roles in China’s plastics machinery industry are going local

It’s becoming less common to meet European MDs running the Chinese or Asian subsidiaries of international plastics companies. We’ve been fortunate to support many Western clients in the search and selection of their local leadership. Occasionally, we do still get requests to find foreign candidates with a long experience in China – particularly for CFO/ Finance/ Controlling roles.

Catching up with some of the talents we’ve placed, both local and “flexpats” who are thriving in their new roles, made this fair extra rewarding for us!

3. Signs of a much-awaited recovery are emerging

What many hoped for in 2023 – a fast rebound in demand for their Chinese-manufactured products – hasn’t happened until now in most industries. But at Chinaplas 2024, we heard more frequently that revenues are finally edging up, mood is good and new order intake is positive.

One company reported that on day 1 of the fair they sold 4 machinery units – “just like in the old days”.

Recruiting activity in the plastics sector seemed reasonably healthy, too, with quite a few clients approaching us about new openings and requiring support in search.

4. International manufacturers are adapting to Chinese customer preferences

We heard repeatedly at the fair from German machinery manufacturers who are betting big on a more competitive ‘good enough’ range of products.

Domestic customers are not just unwilling to pay double or triple for a more durable machine; they actually don’t want machines that last for 20 years. With technology and market trends changing so quickly, who knows whether in 5 years their business will still require, for instance, an injection-molding machine at all?

Agility is trumping durability as a purchase driver, and international manufacturers are having to respond.

One example from a German industry leader

This trend, among others, has finally convinced one of the most iconic German injection-molding machinery makers to shift production for one machine type to China – a long-anticipated move that many customers and market participants salute.

Localized production and faster reaction times from within the market are undoubtedly becoming key factors for long-term success in Asia.

At FES Partners we’re committed to the Chinese market and we’re thrilled to see that so many players in the plastics and machinery industry see their growth here too.

Do these insights match what you’re observing on the ground? We’d love to hear about your experience and talent needs in China.

Get in touch if you’re looking for critical leadership and technical talent to drive your business forward in China and Asia. To learn more about our clients and executive search experience in China’s plastics, machinery, and related industries, click here.