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Galloping ahead

Published on Friday, 20 Dec 2013
Illustration: iStockphoto
Francis Mok
Jeffrey Tang
Marc Burrage

Firms that adapt to HR hurdles will fly in Year of the Horse

With economists forecasting a brighter outlook and Hong Kong's unemployment rate now down to a shade over 3 per cent, HR professionals already have a pretty good idea what 2014 and the Year of the Horse - which starts on January 31 - hold in store.

The hunt for talent will intensify as firms press ahead with upgrades and plans for expansion. Staff retention will become even more of an issue, necessitating greater focus on tailor-made compensation packages for key roles and top performers. And the drive for tight cost control and all-round efficiencies, enforced over the past few years, will remain a priority.

But a range of other trends and themes will also demand attention. These include a shift towards more "flexible" work practices, with individuals less tied to a single employer or the office environment. There will also be the need to make better use of the latest technologies and redesign training programmes to teach new skills which have a real impact on the bottom line.

"In our view, an important trend is that the market for contract - or short-term - workers will continue to grow in response both to restrictions on permanent headcount and recognition of the value of this method of engagement," says Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong. "Another big area of growth will be crossover roles. As the technology, marketing and finance worlds integrate, it will be vital to find people who can move across all sectors with multi-level knowledge."

Pallavi Anand, director of Robert Half in Hong Kong, adds that, in the financial sector especially, firms have learned the lessons of past "over-hiring" and then having to manage the painful process of lay-offs, restructuring and rebuilding.

"Businesses are relying more heavily on a flexible workforce to access specialised skills that either do not exist among permanent employees, or are needed for projects," Anand says. "Since hiring the wrong [full-time] person can be a costly mistake, many firms see this as a way of covering the workload and giving temporary staff an on-the-job audition."

One lesson that is still yet to be fully learned is how to effectively use digital and social media. Many companies still underestimate the commitment and resources needed to create effective relationships with potential employees, believing that just maintaining a digital presence and posting job adverts are enough.

"The way organisations use social media today to interact with customers and younger generations is very important," says Jeffrey Tang, Hong Kong director of talent and rewards for consultant Towers Watson. "You have to look at how society is evolving and how social media is developing."

For training, too, next year is likely to bring new initiatives to the fore. More firms are expected to adopt the system of "talent development reporting principles" (TDRp), which set clear standards and targets to gauge the investment in, and effectiveness of, specific training programmes.

"In recent years, there has been much greater emphasis on total talent management, from recruitment though training and development to retention," says Francis Mok, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management. "We also see more use of social media and online resources for training. Some baby boomers may not like it, but it has the advantages of being flexible and interactive."

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