With the global economy seemingly in full swing again, companies across the region have renewed their focus on long-term staffing programmes. Known collectively as talent management, examples include everything from workforce planning initiatives to training and development schemes.
Findings from a Mercer survey of 600 Asia-Pacific human resources (HR) managers showed that more than 50 per cent of those asked had already, or were in the process of reviving their training, succession planning and performance management programmes.
"As organisations feel more upbeat, spending has definitely increased," says Brenda Wilson, Mercer's Asia-Pacific leader of talent development consulting. "Many companies are already talking about attraction and retention again, with a key emphasis on retaining the best and brightest."
Of the HR managers interviewed in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the mainland, 92 per cent said they were either preparing a staff expansion or were already in growth mode.
Not all aspects of talent development were axed during and in the wake of the financial crisis. "One segment of the workforce that seemed to get investment throughout the downturn was the leadership," Wilson says. "That's very important, because in the Asia-Pacific region, there's just not enough supply [of leaders] given the demand."
But since then, both leadership-training and other development programmes have been receiving significantly more attention from HR managers, particularly at those firms or business units of conglomerates where cutbacks were needed.
For example, Jardine Matheson group weathered the downturn better than most, but some of its units were hardly immune to the impact. While the conglomerate didn't disband any talent management programmes at group level, several of its less profitable units were forced to tighten their belts, a company executive said. Consequently, these entities are now the ones that seem to be making the strongest push in staff development.
"One of our companies that was really struggling put everyone on three days no-pay-leave a month," says Ritchie Bent, Jardine's group head of human resources. "Then, it suddenly picked up again, and they sent one of their senior directors to take the AMP [advanced management programme] at Harvard. Intuitively, when the bottom line is up again, companies are almost always willing to put more money into developing their people."
To Wilson, the upshot of the renewed focus is clear for those in the workforce, whom she indicated could now expect to benefit from more training and development.
"Job-seekers definitely want to look more seriously at companies that are building a pipeline from within. Organisations that are willing to execute and focus on this tend to place a high value on their talent," she says.
For those already at a company with development initiatives, Wilson recommends finding out about how to get involved. "Raise your hand and ask: What will it take for me to be successful in this organisation? Most importantly, be savvy with what's offered - and know what you want."
Know your employer
What is the organisation's plan for developing from within?
How will the company grow and groom leaders and what's its promotion-from-within rate?
What sort of investment will staff get to build skills and capabilities?