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Leap of faith

Published on Saturday, 09 Aug 2014
Matthew Bennett
Alan Wong
Christopher Aukland
Peter Yu

Healthy economy sees employees even more willing to move if they are unhappy, wtires John Cremer.

Five years ago, Hongkongers were praying for the sort of situation that now exists. For employers and staff knocked sideways by the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, most of the talk back then was of lay-offs, pay freezes, debt defaults, currency collapses and other dire happenings.  

Now, with a generally healthy economy creating opportunities and spurring expansion, companies are facing different challenges. And while it is natural for them to refer to issues such as staff retention and the limited pool of available talent as major concerns, the fact is these “problems” are no cause for lost sleep. They are generally just normal features of doing business in an economy that is picking up steam, where wage inflation is still under control, and where more individuals are ready to put work-life balance and job satisfaction ahead of long hours and loyalty on their personal list of priorities. 

This is reflected in the latest Classified Post Pay and Job Mobility Survey, which polled more than 6,900 respondents. Indicating ambition and a certain restlessness, 61.7 per cent said they plan to move jobs in the next six months. This compares with 61.2 per cent in the previous quarter and 55.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2014.  

The essential caveat for interpreting these results is that intention, or talk, and action – in terms of submitting applications and impressing through a tough interview process – are not the same thing. 

With regard to salary increments expected in the next fiscal year, 50.2 per cent said they expect no more than a 5 per cent hike, while 34.5 per cent hope for between 5 and 10 per cent. This represents no significant change from the previous survey, suggesting most employees have realistic expectations, and that employers may need to guard against losing staff to competitors. 

Interestingly, among the 2.1 per cent of respondents who think a salary increase of 31 per cent or more is possible, many are earning above HK$60,000 a month. This hints at a further widening of the wealth gap in Hong Kong.  

Matthew Bennett, managing director of Greater China at Robert Walters, notes that employers are typically concerned about three things: a lack of candidates with relevant experience and specialised skills; the need to spend more on training; and having to hire candidates who don’t have at least 85 per cent of the qualities specified in the job description.  

“We don’t really see a ‘candidate-short’ market, but companies don’t want to take on people who they consider only 70 per cent right for a job,” Bennett says. “This is partly because executive roles require more technical knowledge, with maybe digital or branding experience. So employers are looking for what they call strategically minded, value-based professionals rather than the traditional operations-based types.”  

 With Hong Kong evolving from a shared service centre, there is inevitably less volume hiring – for instance, for back-office functions – than in the past, Bennett adds. However, since most employers now have budgets to increase headcount in key areas, the hope of hiring “perfect fit” candidates, especially for new roles in areas such as digital marketing, social media, and even sourcing and quality control, bears close review.  

Bennett has also seen demand picking up in manufacturing and export, IT and security, next-generation data centres, and project management in the property sector in Greater China. There is also a notable surge in positions in facilities management, as banks, call centres, hotels and residential developments look to trim costs by outsourcing these responsibilities.  

 “We still see a massive war for talent in the risk and compliance space and for revenue-generating roles in asset management,” he says. “Usually, the fastest way to fill them is not to train people, but to take them from your competitors. And, though the world is a different place now, I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

Alan Wong, managing director of Kelly Services Hong Kong, is positive about the prospects for job creation in sectors such as consumer banking, IT, insurance and retail. The latter may suffer some short-term setbacks in view of slowing tourist arrivals, but there is still cause for optimism. “New brands are setting up in Hong Kong offering roles in store management and sales,” he says. 

Employers are now paying more attention to work-life balance and seem more willing to invest in training, Wong adds. Many accept such steps have an impact on employee loyalty, the company brand, and attracting and retaining ambitious younger candidates. “Building loyalty takes buy-in and action from everyone in the company,” he says. “I’ve seen cases where senior management are keen, but middle management aren’t engaged, so the plans just get lost in translation.”  

Christopher Aukland, regional director at Michael Page International, believes the second half of the year will see continued investment and expansion by multinationals, resulting in new opportunities in everything from financial and professional services to FMCG, pharmaceuticals, e-commerce and mobile technologies. 

“There is also a jump in the number of talent management and organisational development roles due to increasing awareness of issues relating to retention, succession planning and business sustainability,” he says. “We know that money is the prime motivator to retain staff, but the use of non-financial benefits is becoming more and more important. Setting up schemes for high-potential staff, mapping out career paths and introducing flexible working arrangements is definitely a trend all employers should note.”  

 Peter Yu, director of Randstad Hong Kong, points out that companies must get used to low employee loyalty and high talent mobility as a consequence of an unemployment rate of just 3.2 per cent. Employers should innovate to improve individual job content, the day-to-day work environment, and options for medium-term career progression. 

“It is encouraging to see a greater interest and commitment from companies in bolstering their employer value proposition,” Yu says. “By providing more non-financial incentives that employees are now looking for, organisations will be better equipped to retain their top talent.”  

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