China’s tech boom powering AI career coup, with finance muscled out at top of salary pyramid

China’s rapidly expanding artificial intelligence (AI) sector has nudged aside finance to top the country’s salary rankings for the second quarter of 2024, as Beijing’s push for self-sufficiency in tech and the rush to capitalise on the industry’s global popularity are helping firms in the field outpace the banks, funds and brokerages that have tended to offer the highest-paying jobs.

Propelled by an explosion of demand as businesses race to develop and trial AI applications, jobs in this sector saw an average monthly pay growth of 5.3 per cent to 13,594 yuan (US$1,868) during the quarter compared to the year prior, according to online recruitment platform Zhilian Zhaopin. Meanwhile, investment as a whole – which includes funds, securities and futures positions – slipped to second place after taking the top spot in the first quarter of the year and many previous periods.

The changing fortunes of AI and financial jobs reflect a shift in national priorities as well as the job market. While employees in China’s vast financial sector have been hit by widespread pay cuts and even retractions of bonuses, tech is quickly becoming a new darling among jobseekers.

Beijing has diverted ample resources to boost its tech capacity – including funnelling capital from the financial sector – as the world’s second-largest economy attempts to upgrade manufacturing while striving to bypass numerous barriers to tech and trade development laid down by the West.



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This has translated into higher pay for related industries.

While new recruits in AI topped the pay chart in the second quarter with the aforementioned 13,594 yuan per month, financial institutions offered monthly wages between 12,178 and 13,169 yuan. This was higher than the 10,313 yuan average income of all new jobs, but the industry’s allure is being eclipsed.

Specifically, AI engineers – with average monthly pay in excess of 22,000 yuan – hit the apex of a sub-chart ranking the top 20 best-paid jobs in the second quarter, leading finance jobs by a comfortable margin. A chip engineer can also make 21,124 yuan a month during the same period.

“The AI industry is a hotly contested new tech front globally, with great potential to spawn new business models and revenue streams. Numerous companies are competing for high-calibre talent with high salaries on offer,” Zhilian Zhaopin said.

“Recruitment in this sunrise sector is characterised by high technology, high education, a high [experience] threshold and high salaries. The pay level of engineers and technical positions in algorithms, C [programming] language, embedded software development and machine visuals is particularly high.”

Conversely, it appears the heyday of fat paycheques for Chinese bankers and financial executives is winding down as Beijing’s sweeping overhaul of the industry has kicked into high gear. Pay cuts of various degrees have been reported at state-owned banks and investment banks alike.

But the Zhilian Zhaopin report said even with the cutbacks, financial sector jobs still offer competitive salaries relative to most industries. The platform interviewed more than 1,000 companies in 38 cities across China for its quarterly report.

This is the first time AI has been categorised separately in the quarterly survey. Previously, AI was lumped in with technology and semiconductors – the fourth highest-paid sector in the first quarter.



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