The upcoming presidential election campaign season will probably bring many different but familiar proposals on creating jobs in the U.S., but a more surprising possible source for new employment for Americans: China.
China’s middle class continues to grow, reaching an estimated 630 million people by 2022. Those consumers want better health care, world-class education and a cleaner environment. China itself will eventually be able to provide those services, but meanwhile, the Internet makes it possible for China to create and sustain American jobs.
Take health care. In 1994, a Chinese university student named Zhu Ling became mysteriously ill. Other students posted her medical details on the Internet, allowing Western doctors to help diagnose her with thallium poisoning and to save her life. It was a famous early instance of effective telemedicine.
U.S. health-care professionals could provide China with a range of services. China had just one general practitioner for every 10,000 people in 2013, according to state media, and many Chinese are dissatisfied with the quality of the care. “China has very few doctors that can gain trust,” said Feng Xue, executive president of Tianjin Telemedicine Association, a nonprofit organization to promote telemedicine. “The U.S. has a strong brand.”
Chinese patients are already seeking second opinions from overseas medical experts. In 1999, Chinese doctors told Beijing resident Cai Qiang that he might have liver cancer. He went to Australia for a second opinion and learned that he was just overweight—an experience that inspired him to start a consulting company called St. Lucia over a decade later.
Today, St. Lucia helps Chinese patients and their doctors send CT scans and MRIs to U.S. medical centers such as Johns Hopkins Hospital and Cleveland Clinic; the American doctors then respond with their advice on a secure web portal. St. Lucia also helps to coordinate medical tourism for treatment in the U.S.
Many Chinese also want American education, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students at U.S. colleges, but online education is also an attractive option.
Coursera, a U.S.-based online education site, has more than one million registered users in China, says the company. The content is free, but learners can pay for a verified certificate proving that they completed the course and achieved competency. Coursera expects the number of Chinese who pay for the certificates to grow substantially in the years ahead. The firm iResearch estimates that China’s online education market will reach almost $20 billion this year.
Americans also could provide online vocational training through video. Evan Guo, CEO of Zhaopin, a Chinese website for job seekers and employers, says that former auto workers, for instance, could make money by teaching skills online. Mr. Guo explains, “People in Detroit are not aware that the automotive industry in China is booming, and that their outdated skills could be very useful in China, because China’s industry structure is very different.”
Mr. Guo adds that, for a fee, people in the U.S. could also share practical knowledge on subjects like marketing, sales, information technology and accounting, which are in strong demand in China.
With its burgeoning elderly population, China could also create revenue for the U.S. senior-care industry. U.S. doctors, nurses and caregivers could provide online training to their Chinese counterparts. “Given that China is estimated to need over 6 million caregivers by 2020 just to address an aging issue that will not reach its peak until 2050, American service providers and training companies could easily supplement China’s shortcomings,” says Benjamin Shobert, managing director of Rubicon Strategy Group, a consulting group that specializes in Chinese health care.
Environmental protection and energy efficiency are other areas where China needs experienced professionals. Seeder, a Shanghai-based online service, helps Chinese building owners to connect with overseas providers of conservation-minded services and technology, as well as with project financing. “There is great demand in China for U.S. energy services like building management systems, building energy modeling and smart metering,” says American Alex Shoer, Seeder’s co-founder.
Seeder recently matched a Chinese logistics center with a U.S. company that designs and installs solar panels. “While the panels were installed in Beijing, all the technical work was done in the U.S.,” Mr. Shoer says.
China will catch up in these service areas one day, but for now, the Internet can create opportunities for the U.S. workforce while helping China to address its own staggering demand. And much of it can be done without the need for any American to set foot on an airplane.