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Demand for better skills is making staff sweat

Published on Friday, 18 Oct 2013
Peter Yu
Emma Reynolds
Photo: May Tse

While both bosses and workers in Hong Kong agree that the level of skills that staff are expected to possess has risen in the last five years, Randstad’s Workmonitor Report for the third quarter of this year also shows that employees expect these demands to continue to increase in the future.

“The pace of change is greater than ever before,” says Peter Yu, general manager and director of Randstad Hong Kong. “Therefore, the ability to flex, adapt and rapidly up-skill for greater efficiency, accuracy, relevancy and engagement is in demand.”

The report, which tracks workforce trends in 42 countries, shows that in Hong Kong, 85 per cent of employers expect more from their employees than five years ago. The pressures these expectations bring are reflected in the fact that 46 per cent of local workers are worried that they won’t be able to meet the requirements of their job in the future. However, 96 per cent of them said that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to raise their game to the required level.

The report highlights the need for the local workforce to enhance its digital and social skills. Yu advises even non-IT specialists to keep abreast of relevant blogs and publications, as well as online training and development opportunities.

“It’s not enough to master digital analytics, CRM [customer relationship management], search and social technology. You have to understand how all these moving parts work together and integrate with the business. Possessing a broader, all-encompassing viewpoint becomes more vital as you progress in your career and your responsibilities move from tactical objectives to business strategy,” he says.

He also notes the increasing demand for “soft” skills. “When we talk with HR directors from [businesses ranging from] MNCs to SMEs about their organisational and operational movements, the emerging trend we are seeing features an increase in collaboration across teams, a greater reliance on communication and EQ, and a focus on driving productivity and growth in a holistic, sustainable way. These dynamics require soft skills that enable strong stakeholder management and greater adaptability, accountability and transparency in the workplace,” he says.

He adds, however, that the report showed that only 28 per cent of surveyed employers believe that the Hong Kong government’s policies and initiatives can deliver these skills. Many employers, meanwhile, don’t plan to immediately begin training new hires when they enter the company. “The expectation in Hong Kong is for employees to hit the ground running, therefore development is not often part of the dialogue at the initial stage of recruitment and on-boarding. I would say that 99 per cent of the time, our clients are looking for the candidate with the right experience,” he says.

Emma Reynolds, CEO of e3 Reloaded, a creative agency specialising in employer branding and employee communications, believes businesses have to transform their relationship with their employees and treat them as they would their customers.

All too often, however, this is not the practise, she says. “We find that companies are often brilliant at communicating with their customers, brilliant at segmenting them and understanding who they are and what they want, brilliant at helping these customers to change their behaviour, but terrible at engaging their own employees,” she says. “Too often change is something being done to employees and they are not in control of it and they don’t feel part of it.”

Reynolds encourages employers to design their internal systems and processes from the same perspective as the best computer and smartphone companies design their products: with the end user always in mind. To do this, she believes businesses should ask themselves a number of questions to improve their employees’ ever-changing working lives.

“Are we harnessing the skills of our employees and tapping into their ability to collaborate, or are we just designing things in the boardroom for people around that table?” she asks. “Are we totally transparent internally? Are we transferring control from the organisation to the employee? Can they personalise their experiences? Are we designing things for our employees so it’s easier for them to do great work? Or is the user the last person we have in mind?”

The Randstad report shows that 93 per cent of those surveyed believe employers and employees are equally responsible for ensuring staff have the skills that their job requires. Reynolds echoes this sentiment. “Gone are the days when an employee joined a company and then sat back and said, ‘Right, I’ll be here for 30 years and it’s your responsibility to manage my career,’” she says.

She adds, though, that businesses should create a learning culture within which employees can be proactive and take responsibility for their development.

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