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It’s Getting Harder to Hire – Especially in Greater China

Published on Tuesday, 18 Jul 2017
Talent acquisition (TA) is a fast-moving world, and TA professionals can’t afford to assume that the qualities that attracted yesterday’s candidates will be equally appealing tomorrow. Rapid business growth, changing candidate demands and a shortage of qualified professionals are creating intense competition for talent. To gain – and maintain – a competitive edge, TA professionals need to understand and prioritise the factors that draw the attention of top talent, all while keeping one eye on the future.
To gain a deeper understanding of today’s talent issues, Korn Ferry Futurestep conducted a global survey of over 1,100 TA leaders for its latest Talent Forecast report. It found that globally, 57% of TA professionals say sourcing qualified candidates is harder today than it was one year ago. In Greater China that figure is even higher, at 72%. Contributing factors including: 
Lack of candidates that have the skills to move up the leadership pipeline (37%)
Competition from other sectors for the same talent (27%)
Sophistication of skills required for our sector/niche roles (12%)
Varying challenges in different regions
Fuelled by ambition, talent in Greater China today expect rapid career progression and development in the sea of opportunities. However, this fast career progression can lead to a deficit in leadership capability. This gap appears to be more significant in Greater China than other countries surveyed, and is compounded by a faster rate of business growth. 
For Hong Kong, one of the biggest challenges observed is the high staff turnover rate. It is evident that there is little loyalty towards employers, and that competition for talent is particularly stiff in sectors such as retail, hospitality and engineering. TA strategies in Hong Kong, therefore, should focus not only on employee attraction, but should also zero in on employee development and engagement. 
As enterprises in mainland China have in recent years become larger and more sophisticated, and increasingly take on a global outlook, multinational corporations (MNCs) are becoming less attractive to talent. With that, MNCs need to compete harder than before and prove that they can offer similar – if not better – career progression opportunities than domestic companies, and enhance their employee retention strategies.
For Taiwan, much of its local home-grown talent has long since gone overseas to China, Singapore and other Asian countries to pursue career opportunities that are more attractive than in the domestic market. However, many are currently looking for ways to return to Taiwan for personal and health reasons (such as escaping the high pollution levels found in many Asia cities), which presents a great opportunity for local employers.
R&D roles are the hardest to fill
Some roles are more difficult to fill than others. The Talent Forecast report showed that, according to TA professionals in Greater China, research and development (R&D) roles are the hardest to fill (30%), with sales coming a close second (22%). Operations, engineering and IT roles also appear near the top of the list of hardest roles to hire for.
Competition for R&D talent has long been fierce and true to the global trend, many tier 2 and 3 cities in mainland China are facing the same challenge as well. With the significant increase in investment in R&D facilities in Greater China in recent years, R&D talent are now spoilt for choice with the abundance of available opportunities. Moreover, as R&D roles cut across a variety of industries, an extra layer of complexity and difficulty has been added to the existing recruitment challenge. As such, TA professionals are finding it more difficult to motivate talent to make lateral moves, and are widening their talent search across the Asia-Pacific region instead.
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Compensation pressure and a focus on cost savings mean many companies don’t invest enough in talent development. To ensure that they stay on top of their game as well as continue to attract and retain top talent, companies need to differentiate themselves and address these issues.
Understanding how best to appeal to candidates is also becoming increasingly important. TA professionals in Greater China need to use all the resources, tools and insight at their disposal to develop their employer brand strategy in order to create an impeccable employer brand. In this, the importance of hiring managers should never be underestimated. By making them brand ambassadors (rather than gatekeepers), they can bring the employer brand to life during the hiring process and draw talent who resonate with the company culture and values. 
In addition, TA professionals can’t rely on what has worked in the past and what may still work today when tomorrow is likely to bring a whole new set of candidate expectations. According to the Talent Forecast report, TA professionals in Greater China said the most important factor in attracting talent five years ago was the benefits package (45% of respondents). The same is true today, though the percentage has dropped to 34%. Looking five years ahead, they think that the benefits package will have been displaced as the most important attraction factor by company culture (28%, up from 14% today) followed by company mission (18%). 
As such, the ability to create an appealing, empathetic employer brand that clearly communicates its vision and purpose is only going to become more important to attracting top talent as competition becomes increasingly fierce over the coming years.
Facing the challenges head-on
The challenges facing TA professionals are unlikely to diminish in the years ahead. To gain – and maintain – a competitive edge, TA professionals need to understand how talent acquisition aligns with the business strategy. This will enable them to have the insight and knowledge to map future talent needs to business strategy, and be proactive in building expertise and establishing relationships with potential candidates in advance of openings.
In addition, TA professionals should develop a blended approach to talent management and recruitment that includes:
1. Both internal and external talent management
2. An effective campus recruitment strategy
3. A powerful employer brand
4. A strong social media presence
5. An effective training and leadership development programme
By adopting such an approach, TA professionals can ensure their companies are on the right track for success by attracting the sort of top talent that will take the business to the next level.
By Sue Campbell, Managing Director, Asia, Korn Ferry Futurestep 
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