Hong Kong's job market is not just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It is, in fact, chugging along way out of the tunnel and may even be heading for the stratosphere, with an expected skills crunch.
A market survey that doesn't speak of "cautious optimism" can be taken as a milestone in Hong Kong's economic recovery. For the past 18 months, that phrase has been a favourite of commentators and employers obliged to hedge against the possibility of another downturn.
But the findings of the latest Michael Page International salary and employment survey, released exclusively to Classified Post, are sufficiently encouraging to mean it can now be gracefully retired.
The survey responses from more than 400 employers in Hong Kong and southern China indicate real confidence based on business growth, increased hiring, and all the signs that usually accompany an improving labour market.
Figures show 55 per cent of respondents have boosted headcount in the past six months. Initially, their focus was on so-called replacement positions, then on new frontline sales-related and revenue-generating roles. Now, though, hiring activity is far more substantial. It stretches across sectors and functions from finance to engineering and property, from supply chain specialists to IT support and HR. Fifty per cent of respondents expect to keep recruiting over the next six months, while 55 per cent are budgeting for salary increases in the new year. Most firms (31 per cent) are planning for pay awards of 3 to 4 per cent, although a substantial proportion (24 per cent) is thinking in terms of 4 to 6 per cent increases.
"Looking forward to 2011, we expect to see increasing growth in confidence from employers and employees," says Anthony Thompson, managing director of Michael Page, Hong Kong and Southern China. "We have been in Hong Kong for 16 years and currently have more active jobs [hiring requests from clients] than ever before. It's across all industries, but those with a link to the mainland especially, have accelerated their hiring plans."
A leading factor, he adds, is that multinationals realise Asia is the best bet for short-term growth. So they are moving fast to hire, and the sense of confidence that brings is spreading to job-seekers or potential career-shifters. Individuals are again prepared to take a chance and look for something better.
"Signs so far are very positive," Thompson says. "Right now, Asia is the place to be, so we will continue to see investment from across the globe and the creation of new jobs." The survey highlights a possible shortage of professional skills in the next 12 months.
A significant 44 per cent of replies confirmed this could be a problem.
Anecdotal evidence suggests employers consider technical skills for specific roles as a given. What concerns them is being able to find people with a high level of communication skills. "There are different skill sets for each discipline, but the overriding one is to have good interpersonal and influencing skills," Thompson says. "Whatever you are in - finance, commerce, quality assurance - people can be a bridge between what's happening here and in the rest of the world."
Pay heads north
To retain staff, employers are focusing on salary reviews (34 per cent), leadership and communication (28 per cent), and career development (23 per cent)
Candidates are on the hunt for international exposure
Employers are willing to raise salaries by 10 to 15 per cent to keep top staff or attract quality candidates