Career Advice Job fairs and Events

Keeping them happy is the key to retaining talent

Technological advances, and the shrinking of the workforce due to ageing, are two factors which are having a major effect on recruitment. As both trends are likely to continue, Classified Post’s 2019 Human Resources (HR) Conference focused on talent acquisition and retention. The day-long event was packed with keynote speeches, case studies, and panel discussions, which featured experts from the government, multinational companies, and academia. The goal was to inspire the HR community by discussing contemporary recruitment strategies.

Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, Hong Kong’s Under Secretary for Labour and Welfare, set the scene by saying that employees should be treated as assets to their company. “Experienced staff members are vital human capital, so it’s important to ensure their duties are tailored to match their different needs,” Tsui said. Companies should also keep abreast of new technology, he added. “While technology is assisting employees with more and more jobs, and lowering their workload, employees fear their jobs could be replaced by evolving technologies,” he said. But although Artificial Intelligence (AI) may result in fewer job opportunities, Tsui does not think it will replace humans in the workplace. “AI can’t think by itself. It needs humans to input data. AI will probably just take over routine work so that we humans are free to focus on areas that machines can’t handle,” he said.

Tsui said that there are alternatives to financial incentives to attract or retain staff in the commercial sector. “Use your imagination to think of the most attractive ones, for example child-care services, a nursing room, and so on. Encouraging employees to do something for the community as well as meeting business targets can also improve a brand’s image.”

According to Tsui, many employers offer an inclusive workplace which promotes harmony. Training and communication can lead to better understanding among employees, Tsui said. Employers should think laterally to attract new employees, he added. “Use different means to attract and retain them. Remember that word of mouth is important, and that employees can encourage their friends to join the company,” he said.

An emphasis on family can help: “From a government perspective, we stress the importance of family-friendly employment practices. People with a family sometimes shift to part-time work, and top-quality talents sometimes leave their jobs. Perhaps these trends can be countered by introducing flexi-time and a five-day work,” Tsui said.

The Willis Towers Watson 2018 Digital Transformation Practices Report, which surveyed of 1,200 multinational and regional companies concluded that all regions are facing a scarcity of digital talent. In response, over 90 percent of organisations have turned towards different sources, such as outsourcing and automation, talent exchange for short-term assignments, and robotics.

Brian Sy, Willis Towers Watson’s head of global data services for Hong Kong and Macau, said that everyone is competing for digital talent. “This has led to specific monetary and non-monetary practices,” Sy said. “Factors for attracting talents in the Asia-Pacific region include a bonus for signing on. But interesting, challenging and varied work is more important than cash compensation to retain talents,” he noted. The primary IT professional’s attraction and retention programmes are non-monetary, such as providing professional development opportunities, flexible schedules, as well as exciting and challenging assignments, he noted.

As for financial compensation, almost half of the companies who responded to the survey offer more than the standard base salary for digital jobs. Some organisations offer one to one-and-a-half times the monthly salary as a sign-on bonus for professionals with IT skills. Compensation of 10 to 25 per cent above market rate is typical for in-demand IT skills.

AI, big data, and digital marketing are expected to experience changes in terms of compensation over the next 18 months. Examples of non-monetary practices that will change include a shift to using outsourced talent due to evolving technology, and job redesigns to make the work doable by a wider range of employees.

“HR must partner with the business to adopt a modernised total rewards strategy which takes certain elements into account,” Sy said. “The strategy must recognise the scarcity of certain skills, and assess the ‘skill and will’ gap; be flexible enough to individualise rewards (“personalisation”); use a communication strategy which maintains fairness, and the right level of transparency; and use data to stay abreast of the fast-changing employment environment. Also ensure that a balance is kept between financial and non-financial rewards by understanding the perspective of the staff, and the impact created by each type of rewards,” Sy said.

Flexibility is key in today’s labour market, he added: “In addition to sourcing talents locally, companies are also expanding their pool to reach out to right talents around the world,” Sy said.

Global companies like Asia Miles and Philip Morris International were on stage to talk about some of the best HR practices on offer to attract and retain diverse talents. Willie Cheng, Asia Miles’ head of people, recalled, “Our staff engagement programme was the brainchild of the people department, and the objective was to bring staff together and break down silos. We created an open and clean office space, and couches were placed to allow staff to sit comfortably. To get the company’s message across, we adopted design thinking with a human-centric problem-solving methodology: ‘empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test before implementation’. Our staff satisfaction with the office rose to 42.7 per cent,” he said.

Angee Chan, Philip Morris International head of people and culture for Hong Kong and Macau, advocated an inclusive and diverse workplace achieved through an employee-centric strategy. The company’s Hong Kong headquarters is home to 27 nationalities. Two years ago, it held a two-day staff hackathon-style discussion with colleagues to learn about their needs and suggestions. “We carried out some actions after listening to their views,” Chan said. “For examples, flexible work hours, more common space in the office, more project-based opportunities, a variety of fruit on offer, and activities. We expanded our flexible benefit scheme, and maternity leave was increased to 18 weeks. We launched new activities and facilities to create a diverse and all-embracing workplace. In 2019, we will take it to the next level by applying for global equal salary certification to confirm our commitment to gender pay equality.”

During the panel discussion, moderator Alvin Leung, general manager, PERSOLKELLY Consulting (HK) invited Sy, Cheng and Chan to put their heads together on the subject of “Effective Talent Acquisition and Retention in the Era of VUCA” (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). “Skill-matching remains important — it’s not just a matter of filling the post but of finding the people with the right skills,” Leung said. Cheng suggested its established trainee programme under Swire and Cathay Pacific, which works with universities and involves a hackathon, encourages top talent to sign up.

“Potential employees will join the company if it matches with their vision,” Chan said. “This explains why we try our best to embrace the opinions of staff, so we can reflect what they are thinking. When recruiting, we don’t just look at an applicant’s experience or background, we also take their soft skills into account. These include collaboration, communication skills and agility. We’d also like applicants to demonstrate problem-solving skills. That will bring a long-term benefit to the company.”

Employers can look further than millennials when trying to fill positions, the experts noted. “Invisible labour,” like retirees and aged workers, should not be dismissed. Sy said that the experience of senior citizens is invaluable, and they can act as mentors, coaches and advisers. Organisations have realised that such talent is valuable, and as many senior citizens don’t want to retire, there is availability.

“The Highway to Work of the Future in Talent Acquisition” a presentation by Randy Chiu, professor of management and director of the centre for human resources, strategy and development at Hong Kong Baptist University, examined advanced HR practices, technology, and tools.

“Technology changes the work process,” he said. “Companies need to make modifications and ensure that their operations are kept up to date. AI is not new, and a survey projected that although it will have eliminated seven million jobs by 2015, it will have created 7.2 million new jobs. Some of the new jobs are posts you may have never heard of, like a cyber-city analyst. It seems likely that job prospects will be improved for the visually impaired, and wheelchair-bound workers,” said Chiu.

“The best way to retain part-time staff is to ensure a positive employee experience. Remember to make them part of the team,” Chiu added.