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ESS in the News

In November 2005, ESS was invited to go on the China trade mission trip with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote doing business with the Golden State.


Translating immigrant dreams into jobs  

Recruiter helps Asian-Americans hit high notes in Silicon Valley 

BY MARK HULL 
Talent Scout Editor 
 

AMY CHENG

"Be aggressive and persistent; have good skills and don't give up." 
The Scout's Profile

Like so many immigrants before her, Amy Cheng brought dreams to the United States -- but few belongings. With just $25 in her pocket, Cheng came to the Bay Area from China in 1984 to pursue a career in opera. 

But the mezzo soprano found that without job experience and an understanding of English, she couldn't get very far. So before attending music school at San Jose State University, she learned English. Not long after that, Cheng saw new opportunities. 

She shelved her dream of a career in opera after working for several high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and opted for something more practical: cashing in on the hot job market by helping workers of all backgrounds pursue careers. 

As co-founder of Electronix Staffing Services in Milpitas, the 30-something Cheng and her partner, Roger Yang, have helped hundreds of workers, including many Chinese immigrants, find jobs in the Bay Area. 

Business is brisk for the full-service staffing agency, which opened in August 1996.With appointment calendars packed with names of workers seeking clerical, technical, sales and marketing positions, Electronix Staffing plans to triple in size, capitalizing on a thriving job market and a year that produced $1 million in sales for the company. 

We talked with Cheng about the Asian workforce and the growing demand for ABC's, an acronym the company uses for its No. 1 job seeker: American-born Chinese. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which has also been translated into Chinese


Q. What do you tell workers who come through the agency? 

 A. I always encourage them to do good work, and I tell them my story. 

 I started in this country, and earned $2 an hour in my first job working in a restaurant. 

I came here to work on my master's degree in music. But when I got here, my cousin said, ''Forget it. Don't even go to Oregon to music school. You won't get your scholarship next semester because you don't even speak English. What you should do is go to school and study English and work at the same time.'' 

That's how I started, and I was so frustrated and disappointed. At the same time, I knew I was going to make it. 

We help a lot of people. We tell them they might have just gotten here, but what they're doing is just a first step. Get into the company and do good work. You'll get a regular job, and you'll go from there. 
   

Q. Silicon Valley is a hotbed for many different jobs, but why is the demand so strong for bilingual and bicultural Chinese? 

 A. Everyone is looking at the mainland China market right now because the market is tremendous and because the Chinese government is opening itself to the world. 

 Lots of companies in China, and especially Taiwan, are trying to set up offices here in the United States. Demand from companies in mainland China is fairly new to Silicon Valley. Demand from companies in Taiwan has always been there, but it's getting hotter right now. 
 
 Q. What are some of the characteristics of typical Chinese workers in Silicon Valley? 

 A. Most of them are born in their own countries: Taiwan, Hong Kong or mainland China. They came over here to study, like myself, and now they're working over here. Electronix Staffing works with a lot of different people: Some are college graduates, and some have been engineers for a while. 

The younger workers are in demand right now because their education and experiences are more current. Technology is changing very fast. Companies like to look at what you've been doing for the last five years. 
 

RAW TAPE

Cheng offers job advice, in Mandarin 
[ 292K WAV | 98K AIFF

Translation: "Don't ever give up. This is Silicon Valley. You have lots of chances if you're skillful and work hard."  


What characteristics do many of the immigrant temporary workers in high-tech companies share?
[ 873K WAV | 239K AIFF

"Most of them are skillful and very well educated in their countries but when they come to this country, they have to start as an electronic assembler. They were engineers, doctors and business people, but without speaking English, they have to start somewhere. We sit down and work with them and find out their skills. We then call companies and introduce them."  


Are Asian stereotypes still prevalent in many Silicon Valley companies? 
[ 717K WAV | 239K AIFF

"The gap is getting smaller. In 1993, I went into a company and tried to get a sales and marketing position. The vice president of sales and marekting said very frankly, 'We've never hired a Chinese sales and marketing person in our department. Nothing discriminating, but we just thought that you guys are not very good in that field.'" 

 What did you say to that? 

 "I said, 'Well, try me.'"  


Is there an exodus of American-born Chinese workers taking their skills back to Asian countries? 
[ 516K WAV | 172K AIFF

"Lots of people are coming in asking for opportunities that will send them back to China. Those people aren't ABC's (American-born Chinese); they're the people from mainland China who came here to get their engineering degrees and are working for Silicon Valley companies. They're engineers, sales and marketing people, they're business development people. Now, they want to go back to China." 

Q. Do you find Chinese workers typically are more loyal to Silicon Valley companies, working longer for them?  

A. I think so. We hear candidates say sometimes, for example, ''I was looking for a job six months ago, but I thought that my boss was nice, so I decided to stay longer.'' They say things like that, which I think is partly a cultural difference. 

Q. Are Asian stereotypes still prevalent in many Silicon Valley companies? 

 A. The gap is getting smaller. In 1993, I went into a company and tried to get a sales and marketing position. The vice president of sales and marketing said very frankly, ''We've never hired a Chinese sales and marketing person in our department. Nothing discriminating, but we thought that you guys are not very good in that field.'' 

Q. What did you say to that? 

 A. ''Try me,'' and they did. I did very well over there. 
 
 Q. Is there an exodus of American-born Chinese workers who are taking their skills back to Asian countries, to pursue their roots now that the markets are opening up overseas?  

A. Lots of people are coming in asking for opportunities that will send them back to China. Those people aren't ABCs (American-born Chinese); they're the people from mainland China who came here to get their degrees and are working for Silicon Valley companies. Now, they want to go back to China. They want to work for U.S. companies, but they want to work in China. 
 
 Q. Why the preference for U.S. companies? 

 A. There's a lot of reasons. There's still a big gap on how work is done between the United States and China. People still like to have the freedom of being an American, but the ability to work in China. 

 I think they want to work for American companies but still do something for their countries, too. I used to feel that way. You want to do something for your country because you grew up over there, you're Chinese, but you don't want to give up whatever you have here, because you never know what might happen overseas. 
 
 Q. Do Chinese-Americans going back to work in Asia also have to adjust to cultural differences? 

A. You have to. I've been here for 14 years. The first time I went back to China for business, I couldn't stand the way they did it. They were not efficient. Maybe efficient in their own way, but I kept saying, ''What's going on here?''

They were taking you out to eat, and having a good time, but they hardly ever mentioned business. 

 Chinese-Americans might have a hard time because the business system is not like here. There's a lot of corruption and bureaucracy. It's very tough to do business if you're used to working here. 
 
 Q. Are you finding a demand from countries in Asia for Silicon Valley workers? 

 A. There's a big demand for people in China. Lots of companies are sending manufacturing over there because of the big labor force. But for higher-level management positions, they'd like to find someone here, who also speaks the language, and to send them to China to work with those local people while keeping the American standards of quality. 

 A group of very high-level government officials from Beijing are coming to visit Electronix Staffing to see if they could work with us in what they call a ''talent exchange.'' They'd find people to send here and bring some talent from Silicon Valley back there. 

 We've had a lot of inquiries in the past from people all over Asia. That's one of the areas we'd like to get into. 
 
 Q. Do you believe some Asian workers face a glass ceiling that blocks their advancement in some U.S. companies? 

 A. I think that's probably true. A lot of people who have come in here talk about that. 

 For example, I'll say, ''You're doing very well in your company. You're paid well, so why do you want to leave?'' They'll say, ''I don't think there's any advancement for me as a Chinese person.'' Chinese people who come from Japanese and Korean companies say the same thing. 

 Sometimes it's true, but some of the people are too sensitive. 
 

Published: Oct 1, 1997, San Jose Mercury News