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Upbeat mood spurs positive hiring attitude

Published on Friday, 25 Apr 2014
Lancy Chui
James Hall

Prospects for jobseekers should be good in the second quarter if the findings of ManpowerGroup’s latest Employment Outlook Survey are anything to go by.

Asking about 800 local employers across all main industry sectors their hiring intentions for April to June, the survey reveals an upbeat mood in a generally positive business climate.

According to the results, employers in finance, insurance and real estate indicated they are most likely to be recruiting. Feedback from the services, construction, and wholesale and retail sectors also points to steady hiring to fulfil orders and keep pace with consistent or growing demand.

Overall, 17 per cent of Hong Kong participants plan to increase headcounts. The “net employment outlook” (NEO) – the percentage of employers anticipating an increase in hiring in the next quarter minus the percentage expecting to see a decrease, adjusted for seasonal variations – stands at 16 per cent. This figure maintains an upward trend from the NEO of 14 per cent in the first quarter and is well ahead of the 11 per cent recorded in Q2 2013.

“The US economy is showing further signs of recovery, which is prompting a positive attitude towards hiring in the finance and insurance sectors in Hong Kong,” says Lancy Chui, Greater China MD for ManpowerGroup. “Banks and other financial institutions are looking to recruit for positions linked to debt and capital market development. Moreover, there remains a demand for talent in areas like risk management and compliance in view of the tighter regulations resulting from the financial crisis.”

Also noteworthy are the effects of the ever increasing number of large mainland enterprises aiming to expand in the SAR and overseas. Already this year, Hong Kong has seen a surge in the number of IPOs of mainland-based companies, and reports indicate more big names are lining up.

The city’s importance as a stepping stone for inward and outward investment – and the place to seek senior management talent – is back in the spotlight. “Clearly, this bodes well for hiring activity among accountancy firms,” Chui says. “Leading insurers also appear to be expanding their agent networks and support teams.”

Even when hiring intentions are stronger, however, recruitment costs – from advertising to interviewing and training – are still a significant consideration. Employers, therefore, won’t rush the process, especially for mid- to senior-level roles. They want be sure of getting the best candidates to minimise the risk of wrong hires, which can double related costs and cause unwanted disruption.

“The speed at which hiring processes move does vary from industry to industry,” Chui says. “Basically, the [level of urgency] comes down to the importance of the position, its priority as a factor in corporate success, and the general availability of talent.”

In this respect, Chui notes that Hong Kong employers in the finance, retail, construction and service sectors are already experiencing a shortage of qualified candidates. For instance, a surge in inbound tourism is boosting demand for staff in restaurants, hotels and all kinds of retail operations to the point where the available workforce is insufficient to meet industry needs. And with so many infrastructure projects on the go, estimates suggest the construction sector requires at least another 10,000 skilled workers to cope with current development plans.

“As a result, part-time and contract jobs are becoming more common in industries facing talent shortages,” Chui says. “A contingent workforce strategy, in response to wider social and economic issues, and a conscious decision to engage flexible HR policies is one way of tapping into new sources of talent.”

Despite the survey’s 23 per cent NEO for the finance, insurance and real estate sectors, James Hall, regional director for Asia international project marketing at real estate service firm CBRE, sounds a warning. He says that while good recruits are generally sought after and will remain so, the current slowdown in the local property market means employers may state hiring intentions, but defer indefinitely on following through.

“The way that the residential market has softened in Hong Kong means some local agencies are looking to diversify and sell overseas properties,” Hall says. “They are trying to generate some revenue for their businesses and [probably don’t need additional staff].”

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