With the economic picture looking increasingly uncertain, local lenders appear to be less inclined to hire on a permanent basis, with many now offering contract assignments as a safe alternative. But while such arrangements are common elsewhere in the world (called ‘temping’ in Europe, where it is very popular), Hong Kong’s employment market, it seems, has yet to fully embrace the practice, despite its benefits.
On the employer’s side, the main advantage relates to the ability to manage salary expenditures more efficiently by recruiting only the talent that’s needed, when it’s needed.
For candidates, short-term assignments tend to provide greater flexibility and possibly even more exposure to different business areas, albeit at the expense of the “iron rice bowl”.
Emma Charnock, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong and China, notes that since the global financial crisis, the contract market – despite accounting only for a small portion of employment – has “developed significantly”, both from the perspectives of employees and employers.
“We are seeing a big push for long-term contractors, driven by concern over financial markets overseas,” she says. “Demand is coming from a number of areas from across the banking business.”
In many cases, contract workers are more experienced and skilled in their line of work and more often than not are asked to work for longer periods than first anticipated, Charnock says.
“This means the organisation secures these skills over a longer period of time, and in a more cost-effective way,” she explains.
Sommer Owens, Hong Kong’s manager for contracts at Robert Walters, has noticed a similar trend. “Before the financial crisis, there was little in the way of contract hiring in Hong Kong,” she says. “At the moment, banks using contact hiring are aiming to have 20 to 30 per cent of staff on contract assignments.”
Among other factors driving employers towards contract appointments, Owens also cites the ability to shorten the recruitment process. “Typically, hiring for a permanent role involves five or six interviews, whereas contract appointments can be wrapped up in just two.”
Most importantly, notes Owens, contract hiring provides banks with the ability to quickly scale up or scale