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Hiring plans up, led by finance and services

Published on Friday, 20 Sep 2013
Lancy Chui
Matthew Bennett

Hong Kong’s finance, real estate, insurance and services sectors remain on a firm hiring footing moving into the fourth quarter, with each industry sector reporting positive recruitment plans.

According to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey for Q4 2013, employers in the finance, real estate and insurance sectors are the most optimistic, reporting a “net employment outlook” (NEO) – the percentage of employers anticipating total employment to increase in Q4 over Q3 minus those who expect a decrease – of 18 per cent. Services followed closely behind with an NEO of 17 per cent.

Lancy Chui, regional managing director of Greater China operations at ManpowerGroup, says that in the banking and finance environment, despite ongoing business restructuring, there is still demand for talent in frontline revenue-generation roles and relationship manager positions. In addition to client-facing roles, hiring expectations in risk management and compliance remain positive as firms remain cautious about managing risk.

Hiring prospects also look particularly bright for those who possess solid experience at small and medium-sized enterprises dealing with mainland corporate clients.

The Manpower survey, which serves as a bellwether of labour market trends and activities, was conducted by interviewing 800 employers in Hong Kong. Among the respondents, 20 per cent expect to add employees over the next three months, while 5 per cent expected to reduce staffing levels.

On the real estate side, Chui says that after the introduction of double stamp duty early this year, property sales growth slowed and several property agents reduced their staffing levels. The Manpower survey indicates, however, that overall hiring sentiments in the real estate industry remain upbeat.

The climate is also favourable in the services sector, with hiring plans improving slightly both quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year by 2 and 5 percentage points, respectively.

On the insurance front, Chui says the global financial headwind has triggered a growing awareness of corporate risk management, where demand to increase the pool of actuaries is particularly prominent.

According to data from the Actuarial Society of Hong Kong (ASHK), there are about 600 fully qualified actuaries in the territory, primarily working in the insurance industry.

Professor Chan Wai-sum, council member of the ASHK and chairman of its Education Committee, says that in addition to the insurance industry, actuaries are in demand across the financial sector to provide risk management solutions.

“We are also seeing a growing demand for actuaries in government departments, including the health bureau, Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority and government regulatory bodies,” Chan says.

He adds that one of the strongest indicators of the rising demand for actuaries is that all 50 actuarial undergraduates at the Chinese University of Hong Kong – at whose business school Chan is also a professor – found it easy to secure internships this year. “The work and completing exams is not easy, but the long-term career prospects are rewarding,” he says.

As the mainland develops into one of the world’s top insurance markets, Chan says career opportunities will continue to open up for Hong Kong actuaries who have experience. He says the ASHK’s efforts to be recognised as a statutory body will also add strength and recognition for the profession.

Matthew Bennett, managing director for Greater China at Robert Walters, expects the job market in the fourth quarter and early next year to be defined by cautious optimism. “With better economic news coming out of the US, and the mainland Purchasing Managers Index at an 18-month high, I don’t expect to see the job market slip backwards,” he says.

In the finance markets, he adds, demand for risk and compliance talent, especially anti-money-laundering professionals, appears more competitive than ever. Demand for technology talent in managed IT services, cloud computing and big data companies that handle outsourced IT projects also remains high, he says. He has also noticed an increase in hiring for training and development roles in HR functions.

“As good workers become harder to attract, companies want to ensure they are not losing people for the wrong reasons,” Bennett says. “They don’t want talent leaving for jobs that already exist internally, which boils down to having good training and development programmes to keep employees engaged.”

As the cost of outsourcing training and development programmes continues to rise and talent retention becomes more important, Bennett believes companies will focus on recruiting HR professionals with training and development skills.

Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong, says that while demand is not evident in every function, there are pockets of specific recruitment activity in Hong Kong. “Asian companies are taking advantage of the region’s strength in the global market by expanding and growing and as a result, they are hiring,” he says.

For instance, he says, the retail, IT and telecommunications sectors are recruiting, but employers have high expectations. “They will only make job offers to the top-tier candidates and are looking for specific skills and backgrounds that match their industry,” he says.

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