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Business confidence returns
Published on Friday, 23 Apr 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung

If the results of the first Michael Page employment index in Hong Kong and southern China are anything to go by, companies are rapidly shaking off the effects of the recession and pressing ahead with plans for recruitment.

The initial monthly report, providing a market snapshot for this month, shows that 44 per cent of the 100 senior human resources (HR) professionals and hiring managers surveyed are now increasing headcount, with only eight per cent contemplating some kind of staff cuts.

"It is obviously very positive," says Dan Chavasse, regional managing director for Michael Page International. "In the first quarter of this year, we saw a very big kickback in recruitment across all sectors, and it is certainly encouraging that a lot of the current hiring is expansionary, not replacement."

A key factor confirming this is that, of employers now recruiting, 49 per cent are looking for frontline staff. Their focus is to fill roles in areas such as sales, account management and customer service.

At the same time, 28 per cent of employers are actively searching for personnel in more operational positions such as purchasing, supply chain, engineering and construction.

"That is the way to get your growth," Chavasse says. "Gearing up first in frontline sales and, after that, in all the infrastructure and back-office functions, with accountancy and legal jobs following."

A similarly good sign is the anticipated hiring focus by job type for the next few months. In this area, the index shows a "very high" 61 per cent of future jobs are expected to be full-time roles, rather than contract or part-time positions.

It is a clear indication that companies are moving beyond the uncertainties and the short-term appointments of the downturn.

"Admittedly, some sectors, such as banking, are coming off a very low base when there was a period of almost zero hiring," Chavasse says. "But after a better end to 2009, companies are now putting in place plans for expansion, which they haven't done for the last two years."

The upbeat mood was also evident in survey responses about general business conditions. Here, 70 per cent viewed the situation in the first quarter as either positive or very positive, and 62 per cent expected the outlook to improve further.

Describing himself as "pleasantly surprised" by the findings on market sentiment, Chavasse feels the index will become a vital source of insights and information.

"The question should be why haven't we done it sooner," he says. "It was not too difficult to set up. A lot of HR executives are quite happy to voice their opinions on things like this, so we had no trouble finding people."

Monthly feedback will come from a group of regular contacts working in a wide range of industries. Primarily, they will comment on the white-collar, middle to senior end of the job market, making it easier to track general trends, and collect data on topical issues such as the most effective retention strategies or candidates' changing expectations.

"We are not [trying to be] a market research company, but we are a barometer of what is going on in the economy," Chavasse says. "At the moment, I am confident because candidates are prepared to see us and discuss changing jobs. But visibility in our business is notoriously short. If there is an economic scare, recruitment and advertising are the first things that stop."

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