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Seasonal bubble bursts

Published on Friday, 22 Mar 2013
According to HR experts, talented candidates in booming sectors such as IT, sales, engineering and construction have been spoiled for choice. However, dire external realities, especially in Europe, have dampened employee expectations.
Photos: SCMP
Matthew Bennett
Caleb Baker

Classified Post’s latest Pay and Job Mobility Survey finds post-CNY buoyancy could be short-lived

The post-Lunar New Year period, when pay rises have been awarded and bonuses confirmed, always sees a flurry of activity in the local job market. Inspired by everything from financial ambitions to the simple desire to seek a new challenge, employees traditionally see this as the time to assess their standing and, if unsettled, look around for something better.

In broad terms, this year has conformed to the usual pattern. Companies with budgets approved for new positions or replacement headcount have been out recruiting in the last two months. Well-qualified candidates in expanding sectors such as sales, IT, engineering and construction have often found themselves able to choose between competing offers.

That seasonal buoyancy, however, and the optimism which comes with it, may be relatively short-lived. Despite upbeat talk in some circles about faster global recovery and the attendant prospects for growth, the prevailing mood in Hong Kong is still decidedly cautious. Ongoing infrastructure projects, tourist traffic, and investment in the next generation of hi-tech upgrades are undoubtedly providing a boost, but with the banking sector still in recovery, and export trade subdued on account of struggling overseas markets, many employers and candidates continue to be limited by economic realities.

This shows through in the latest Classified Post Pay and Job Mobility Survey covering Q1 2013. Collating feedback from more than 2,900 respondents working at various levels in Hong Kong’s main industries, it found that 56.5 per cent are contemplating a change of job in the next six months. Though the figure might seem high at first glance, it has fallen from the 57.9 per cent recorded for Q4 2012 and 57.7 per cent in Q1 2012.

Intention, of course, is not everything, but this reflects the fairly sober view which now exists – something also seen in accompanying answers about the level of salary increment individuals expect in the next fiscal year. The results show 48.7 per cent of respondents anticipate an increase of no more than 5 per cent, with 34.9 per cent thinking that up to 10 per cent might be possible. Set beside the previous quarter’s figures of 47.4 per cent and 36.2 per cent, respectively, it appears that pay expectations are moderating and employees are looking more closely at the value of benefits which go beyond a basic cash sum.

“When looking for new opportunities in 2013, candidates will seek stability, a clear career path and a company with projected growth,” says Matthew Bennett, managing director for Greater China at recruitment firm Robert Walters. “Employers need to offer competitive packages to keep their best talent, but their strategies to attract and retain staff should also include things like job-rotation opportunities, rather than simply focus on money.”

Considering the general outlook for the second quarter, Bennett believes the Hong Kong economy has stabilised and is on track for a level of recovery which should see increased hiring in most sectors to mid-year and beyond. Understandably, though, caution is still the watchword, as so much still depends on China’s export performance and – the ultimate driver – consumer spending in Europe and the US.

“Organisations are focusing on operational effectiveness, which will increase demand for professionals in procurement and supply chain, HR, and Six Sigma-related roles,” Bennett says. “With new banking regulations in place, we also foresee a steady need for corporate governance and compliance specialists in middle- and back-office banking.”

Good candidates can still command a premium – consensus seems to put this at 10 to 15 per cent above current salary – if moving to a new role with a different employer. However, a like-for-like comparison with a present package which includes, for instance, comprehensive medical and dental care, the option of flexible hours, education subsidies, and ongoing professional training, can soon cast headline figures in a new light.

According to Caleb Baker, Asia-Pacific managing director of recruitment process outsourcing and managed services for Talent2, even though there are signs that the economic pick-up is gathering pace, people should definitely take the more upbeat reports about job creation with a pinch of salt.

His company’s latest “market pulse” study of prospects for 2013 found a clear majority – 61 per cent – of around 450 Asia-Pacific companies surveyed were predicting growth during the current 12 months. However, many of them did not see hiring more full-time staff as essential to achieving those higher targets. Key roles would be filled but, overall, these companies sought gains from better efficiencies rather than sanctioning an increase in permanent headcount.

“It may become increasingly necessary for businesses in Greater China and across the region to consider the flexibility of a workforce which has more staff on part-time contracts or shorter-term assignments,” Baker says. “It is already clear that, while businesses are aware of the benefits of a contractor workforce, there are still perceived barriers to adoption. These, though, can be easily addressed by working with expert providers who are able to explain matters relating to management and better visibility.”  

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