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Bound for home

Published on Friday, 16 Aug 2013
Martin Cerullo
Francis Wong

New tactics – from higher pay to work-life balance – can lure back workers to fill the skills shortage

The talent shortage in Asia-Pacific is being aggravated by the migration of millions of qualified workers from the region to different parts of the world – a trend that could further worsen over the next decade. Luring these highly qualified workers back home may hold the key to filling critical manpower requirements.

Talent acquisition and management solutions provider Alexander Mann Solutions (AMS) set out to engage with these workers in its “Bringing Talent to Asia” study.

The research included an online survey conducted in early 2013 of some 500 Asia-Pacific nationals working outside their home countries. They were asked not just about their demographic information but also about their attitudes towards Asia, their reasons for working abroad, their habits, and their social media preferences.

“Asia-Pacific professionals who have moved abroad are some of the best and brightest,” says Martin Cerullo, managing director of development for Asia-Pacific at AMS. “Their time overseas has made them even more valuable, earning them in-depth expertise and experience which local firms can leverage for competitive advantage and sustained growth.”

The respondents in the AMS survey gave different reasons for their decision to work overseas. The foremost answers were to travel and experience other cultures (65 per cent), the desire to expand work experience (45 per cent), higher pay (38 per cent), and better opportunities (38 per cent).

The demand for talented people across Asia-Pacific is projected to rise significantly in the next five to 10 years, Cerullo says, citing a forecast by Oxford Economics. According to research, the requirement for talent in developed Asia will increase by about 10 per cent over the next decade, while those of emerging Asia will rise by up to 22.2 per cent. Meanwhile, a 2013 study by recruiters Manpower revealed that 57 per cent of surveyed companies in Hong Kong have difficulty filling jobs.

Yet the tactics used in Asia-Pacific to combat talent shortages are mostly short-sighted, Cerullo says. The same Manpower study found out that while 22 per cent of Asia-Pacific firms are adapting their talent sourcing by recruiting from untapped talent pools, only 8 per cent tap candidates from outside their own country.

“In the case of Hong Kong particularly, with the combination of the 1997 handover and the tremendous popularity of overseas education, that’s a tremendous oversight,” Cerullo says.

The study also found that most Asia-Pacific workers overseas have firm intentions to return home, for reasons including family and to take advantage of opportunities. 

But attracting talent from abroad has its challenges. The respondents perceived that salary levels in their home countries were too low, opportunities more limited, and that moving home was a step back in their career. Others pointed out that they didn’t know where to find out about opportunities available at home.

“Many of these people regularly stay updated on what’s going on in their home countries, yet they are not able to easily find out about [career] opportunities there,” Cerullo says.

As well as making information easier to access, firms must think carefully about their value proposition to overcome the barriers to luring talent back. “Value proposition is made up of different benefits, whether financial, psychological or functional,” Cerullo says. “[Workers] are prepared to relocate for the right opportunities – if they know about them – and welcome the right approach.”

Harnessing this talent pool requires that businesses understand how these overseas Asia-Pacific workers seek jobs. The best place to start is social media. The AMS study highlighted a strikingly high penetration rate for Facebook (85 per cent) and LinkedIn (64 per cent) among overseas workers.

A significant portion of overseas workers also rely on online resources when seeking career opportunities. “When we asked workers from Asia-Pacific how they look for roles, the top three responses were job boards [60 per cent], online career sites [59 per cent] and online professional networks [44 per cent],” Cerullo says. “These are revealing figures which employers should be aware of as they strive to attract new talent.”

The research findings further highlight the importance of using the right channels and communications techniques to engage with talent, rather than using elaborate, and often expensive, recruitment campaigns. The ubiquity of mobile devices and integrated social media make it easy to access specific groups, whether by creating Facebook or LinkedIn groups, arranging meet-ups, or promote commercial events.

“Each of these channels can be utilised effectively through direct sourcing – a method by which recruiters actively use the company’s brand to reach out to and attract candidates,” Cerullo says. “Employers should consider investing in training recruiters to leverage online channels to engage with candidates.”

There are many other easily implemented techniques for reaching out to overseas talents, Cerullo says, and it’s just a question of working out an approach and putting it into action.  For instance, Facebook’s recently released graph search has made it very quick and uncomplicated to search for candidates overseas who are originally from Hong Kong.

Another simple recruitment tool is also one of the most frequently overlooked: the candidate referral. Through this campaign, firms can ask employees or other people to reach out to friends overseas to access these talent pools.

FlexSystem, a maker of enterprise management software, uses recruitment websites, agents and social networks to lure candidates from across the world.

“We put adverts on the internet so that the whole world can see them,” says Francis Wong, associate director at FlexSystem and chairman of the Hong Kong-based Senior HR Forum, a group of senior HR professionals.

Wong considers the job and salary package to be equally important in luring back talent. “If the job itself is challenging, provides good regional exposure and is rewarding, then it will attract people to consider moving,” he says. Organisations tend to seek Hong Kong natives from overseas to fill regional roles requiring multinational experience, he adds.

Many overseas-based executives are keen to move back to take charge of China-related operations. Since most Asia-Pacific regional headquarters do business in China, Wong believes overseas talent can help bridge international and local management practices.

“These talents know Hong Kong well and have international experience,” Wong says. “They can help solve our talent shortage. We do not lack staff, but we are lacking in talent.”

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