Why dreams of the civil service are holding Taiwan back

Workers in Taiwan dream of being a civil servant more than an internet celebrity and this highlights a big problem in Taiwanese society

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(By Central News Agency)

new survey published this week has revealed Taiwanese workers dream jobs, and the findings are more than a little eye-opening. 

The headline-grabbing revelation was that the third most desirable job for Taiwanese workers was ‘internet celebrity’ (網紅). A huge 15.67% of those who responded to the survey identified this as their dream job. 

That news will have many Taiwanese people rolling their eyes in despair and it certainly says a lot about modern Taiwanese society and the obsession that many people have with the internet and their smartphones. 

However, like being an NBA basketball star or a Hollywood actor, internet celebrity is a completely unobtainable and unrealistic goal for pretty much everybody. Thousands, if not millions, try to build an online profile through social media sites and blogs, but the number who manage to make their living from it is significantly smaller. 

Internet celebrity should be viewed as a fantasy role, one that it is fine for kids to dream about, but something that they grow out of as they get older and start to develop more realistic and obtainable goals. 

Taiwan’s No 1 dream job

While some people will worry that so many Taiwanese workers still hold such childish ambitions, it is the role that topped the dream-job poll that should give them more cause for concern. Because the most popular dream job amongst Taiwanese workers, being cited by almost 25% of respondents was… civil servant!

If this survey were to be carried out in the USA or the UK, it is highly unlikely that civil servant would appear anywhere on the list. Civil servants are seen as pen-pushers; bureaucrats doing dull, if necessary jobs, for which they enjoy a degree of job security but very few other perks. 

It says a great deal about Taiwan’s bloated and burdening public sector that being a civil servant is not only on a list of dream jobs at all, but quite comfortably at the top. 

Why do so many people dream of being a civil servant in Taiwan? There are two main reasons. The first is the financial rewards. Public sector jobs in Taiwan pay substantially higher than most private sector roles. Civil servants receive fat salaries, generous benefits, and enormous pensions (although the current government is trying to bring these down to a more realistic level at the moment). 

But just as important is the comfort zone that most civil servants in Taiwan exist in. The jobs are seen by most people as being cushy. There is no pressure placed on civil servants to hit targets, work overtime, or face any of the challenges that confront most private sector workers. They are also under absolutely no pressure to innovate, reform, or improve the performance of their agencies. 

In other words, civil servants do very little and get paid extremely well for it. No wonder so many people dream of such a job. 

Why radical public-sector reform is urgently needed

This is the revelation of this survey that should be making headlines. Taiwan’s civil service is a huge drain on public coffers. The money these public servants are being paid is taxpayers money. But it is also holding the country back and if Taiwan is to progress, modernize, and develop, it is in need of urgent and radical reform. 

Firstly, the Taiwanese public sector is much too big and carries out far too many roles in Taiwan. Around one in ten Taiwanese workers are employed by either a public-sector body or state-run businesses. It also stretches into far too many areas of society and carries out far too many services. There are numerous areas of the Taiwanese public sector that could and should be outsourced to the private sector. This extensive list includes such things as utilities, transportation companies, gas stations, and telecoms.

Such outsourcing needs to carried out with extreme care to ensure that the best possible deal is secured for the Taiwanese taxpayer, to eliminate the risk of corruption, and to ensure that investment and innovation is a requirement of any deal.  

For those sector’s where a degree of public sector involvement is required, such as in healthcare, education, the military, local and national government, urgent changes are also needed. Staff must be set far more ambitious targets for improvement and modernizing their agencies and the services they deliver. 

At present, when many public-sector workers are asked to make such reforms, the pushback and resistance shown often scuppers reform. This is unacceptable and staff who are unable or unwilling to implement new practices and reforms should be removed from their jobs.

Reform of the public sector is in both the short and long-term interests of the Taiwanese people, Taiwan as a country, and the Taiwanese taxpayers. It offers the opportunity to drive modernization, improve public services, save money, and increase investment in public projects which benefit real people rather than vanity projects for the benefit of politicians and bureaucrats, which are all too common at present. 

But it also offers an opportunity to change the aspirations of Taiwanese workers and drive growth and economic development. Workers and young people in Taiwan should be aspiring to be tech entrepreneurs, financial whizz-kids, or successful industrialists. 

They should no more harbor ambitions to be overpaid public sector bureaucrats than they should internet celebrities. And in fact, the former is far more tragic and damaging to Taiwanese society than the latter.