Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

High risers

Bright futures await loyal staff

Leaders in the construction, property and HR sectors who attended a recent round table forum on recruitment and retention strategies were cautiously optimistic about construction and property growth prospects over the coming year.

“With macro-economic factors still urging caution, there seems to be optimism among business leaders in the growth prospects for the commercial property sector, especially in mainland China,” said Alex Milner, senior partner at forum-organisers Redpath Partners, a recruitment firm specialising in the property and construction field.

The discussion was supported by Redpath Partners’ recent survey on salary and compensation expectations for 2013. HR directors and leaders in the property and construction industry were questioned on the key markets of Hong Kong, China and Singapore. According to the survey’s results, 62 per cent of respondents expected to see a headcount increase in 2013. Only 5 per cent expected a reduction, while 33 per cent expected headcount to remain the same as in 2012.

“The event produced a lively and interesting debate around the key challenges the market currently faces,” said Danny Dawson, director for Asia at Redpath Partners. “It also gave some clear messages to candidates looking to develop in the property market.”

One of the key challenges facing the sector is a skills shortage, which extends across Greater China – especially at the mid- to senior-management level.

“The competition for talent has led to shorter tenure at firms,” said Sean Hurley, Asia-Pacific HR Director at Cushman and Wakefield. “Consequently many employees are not gaining the depth of knowledge equivalent markets would expect, especially in mid-management positions.”

In light of the real estate market’s low retention rates, 100 per cent of respondents envisaged a salary increase across the board in 2013. Susan Chan, from property developer and fund manager Grovesnor, acknowledged the need for the market to offer “salary increases to retain top-performing talent”.

In addition to improving retention levels, the salary increases are also the result of the strengthening of the RMB and the strengthening economy, which is pushing up salaries in China. This has been putting additional pressure on property and construction firms, Milner said.

Aside from benefits and compensation, firms were also said to be focusing on developing their own company culture to ensure that employees were engaged, while feeling that they could develop their careers without changing companies. Elsie Hui from Jones Lang LaSalle believed it was crucial to “focus on creating the right environment that makes people want to stay”.

Companies were also showing an increasingly active commitment to corporate social responsibility. Many examples were cited of projects that were helping to connect employees with their local communities and strengthen ties to the business.

“From all attendees, the overall mood was one of optimism,” Milner said. “China still represents the greatest opportunity for growth, with Shanghai and Beijing still the favoured destinations for candidates. Challenges remain in moving key members to second- and third-tier cities, even with increased compensation. However, the attraction in these locations is the opportunity to work on exciting new projects and further enhance career prospects.”

Many employees were eager to switch jobs for relatively modest salary increases, but Milner thought this was ill advised.

“Changing jobs for a slight increase in salary is short-sighted and not conducive for individuals seeking to develop their career prospects,” Milner said. “Demonstrating loyalty and taking the time to gain real management experience will pay off in the longer term, making you a key asset for the business and a stand-out talent in the marketplace.”

According to Jango Wong, a senior associate at design firm Woods Bagot, architects in the region need to be adept at juggling a multitude of tasks.

“An architect’s role as a lead consultant is still by and large a modus operandi in Asia that requires the architect to operate at an inter-disciplinary level and to maintain an impartial and balanced effort in undertaking that role,” Wong says “This role demands both technical capability as well as a good emotional quotient to be successful.”