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The Long March for talent
Published on Sunday, 17 Apr 2011
Emma Charnock
Regional director of Hong Kong and China, Hays

China’s jobs market is now very active, with healthy levels of movement, a strong economy and new projects coming on line. But a shallow pool of talent in many specialist areas is the biggest threat to growth, which is why the ability to overcome skills shortages, particularly in the banking and finance industry, will become the defining characteristic of the employment market in 2011. It is also the catalyst for many of the other issues we expect to dominate this year, such as salary pressure, the growth of counter-offers and recruiting from overseas.

We saw the first signs of skill shortages in 2010, particularly in the financial services, information technology (IT) and finance technology areas. Various strategies to help overcome the skills shortage will be explored this year, and every success will tighten the candidate market further, which will have consequences for all employers looking to recruit.

Our 2011 Hays salary guide, covering all of Asia, concluded that skills will be in demand across accountancy and finance, banking, IT, human resources, legal, sales and marketing, pharmaceuticals, education, construction, architecture, property, manufacturing and operations, as well as oil and gas.

In accountancy and finance, financial controllers, finance directors and chief financial officers will be in demand if multinational corporations (MNCs) localise their senior management teams as predicted. Candidates with sound understanding of IFRS or USGAAP will be highly sought after. Most employers are willing to pay 10 to 15 per cent higher than common market rates for candidates with both a professional services and industry accounting background. We’ve noted average increases of 8 to 10 per cent within most companies.

In banking, candidates with a solid background in retail banking sales, operation and build networks are in huge demand. Those with experience in corporate banking, trade finance and corporate loan products will also find it easy to find employment. International financial institutes are seeking candidates with excellent knowledge in treasury, equity and foreign exchange products, as well as in sales and product design. As private wealth management candidates are in short supply, overseas candidates will be targeted in order to develop this market in the coming year. Employers are willing to pay top salaries to attract top-end skill sets and in some cases have increased salaries by up to 20 per cent.

In IT, Oracle EBS is gaining popularity within the ERP area, so experienced technical candidates will be needed. There is also increased demand for web product managers and SEO specialists. Web programming, such as PHP and Flash, is coming back into focus. However, there’s no doubt that .NET and Java are still the two main programming languages for developing enterprise applications. Within the infrastructure area, virtualisation and cloud computing skills are scarce. Salaries have increased by 20 to 25 per cent and as much as 30 per cent for candidates in skill short areas.

In human resources, professionals with deep HR execution experience, such as office-HR system start-up and exposure to multi-sites or cities and geographies, are in demand in Shanghai. Verbal communication skills as well as influencing skills remain the very tenet of soft skill requirements for mid-level positions and above. Salaries have increased between 10 and 40 per cent, depending on the level of the position. Several MNCs are beginning to utilise contract solutions for roles such as talent management and staffing managers.

Meanwhile, in the legal services sector, Chinese candidates with international exposure are in high demand. Many firms now require trilingual candidates for their roles, particularly for junior positions. Litigation and arbitration candidates with around three years' post-qualification experience (PQE) are in demand. There is also an increased need for capital markets lawyers.

In sales and marketing, those with digital expertise in advertising are hot. This is followed by candidates with healthcare advertising expertise, given the boom in pharmaceuticals. We also expect a skills shortage of regional account directors to emerge this year. Salary increases in the advertising industry typically averaged between 25 and 40 per cent. In luxury brands and consumer goods, the demand continues for boutique and merchandising managers. These positions are highly coveted by candidates and, as a result, often have rather static salary offerings. The hotel industry is seeking sales directors, directors of food and beverage, front office managers and general managers for new hotels. 

In pharmaceuticals, business development, logistics and supply chain and government affairs talent are in demand. There is also a shortage of biostatisticians, data managers and drug safety managers. Many major healthcare companies have set up their global R&D centres in China which has led to a massive demand for R&D, scientific and clinical research talent. Companies are looking overseas for Chinese nationals who have travelled away for work in the same segment.

The expansion of China’s education sector has created a demand for school leaders as well as qualified teachers in the most popular subjects of mathematics and science. Curriculum advisors are also required.  Professors are sought in response to Hong Kong’s higher education undergraduate degree lengthening from three to four years as of 2012. Some employers are offering salary increases of up to 10 per cent.

In construction, the demand for specialist infrastructure construction and engineering professionals within tunnelling, planning and geology is high as more infrastructure projects begin the early stages of construction. Engineers and project managers with exposure to retail in China or Hong Kong are highly sought after at all levels. Project directors and project managers with experience completing large mixed-use developments in China and with the necessary language skills to work directly with the client are constantly in demand. In areas where demand is high, there have been salary increases of 5 to 15 per cent.

Architectural candidates experienced with high-rise buildings and large-scale mixed-use projects are in high demand. The hotel industry is also booming, with grand plans from hotel developers. This has created great demand for designers with hospitality experience. Supply is not keeping up with demand and candidates are making the most of their opportunities and requesting fairly sizeable salary increases – up to 75 per cent in some cases.  

In property, corporate real estate professionals are in demand across the board. Senior-level candidates from property management leasing and investment who have had exposure to retail and hotel developments in China are highly sought after. On average, salary increases have been between 5 and 10 per cent. With economic conditions continuing to improve further increases are likely.

In manufacturing and operations, with the support of several government-initiated projects, more and more companies are strengthening their presence in the Chinese market, which is creating demand. Employers are willing to offer higher salaries as well as better packages to attract and retain good candidates. The typical range will be between 25 and 30 per cent higher in 2011.

With ongoing oil and gas exploration programmes both onshore and offshore combined with new projects being developed, jobs in this sector are primed for growth this year. Chinese candidates are in high demand in overseas markets as they are educated and skilled with experience working for international companies and English language skills. Local companies are competing for this talent which is influencing salaries.

In Hays’ latest quarterly report, we found that employers are creating new roles to bolster their teams for the year ahead. According to the report, the fact that employers now need to promptly backfill roles that become vacant following staff departures is another factor.

Organisations will use temporary assignments, particularly at the support level, for projects and to cover workloads, while a permanent employee is sourced. We note that there are also more temporary roles coming up with a view to becoming permanent and that such long-term opportunities for temporary candidates have not existed since before the global financial crisis. 

Candidate levels will rise, particularly now that bonuses have been paid. As well as the traditional mentality of seeking a new role in a New Year, more people are now far more confident in the market’s ability to present them with a solid career-advancing opportunity.

Despite this rise, the demand for certain specialist skills – specifically in banking and finance, IT and oil and gas – will not be met. The shortage of these skills will remain a challenge for employers even as candidates move and employers recruit, creating a busy but tight market.

Emma Charnock is regional director of Hong Kong and China for Hays, the leading global specialist recruiting group that employs 7,086 staff operating from 257 offices in 30 countries across 17 specialisms.