The final months of the year look to be a busy hiring period in Hong Kong. Nearly half (47.8 per cent) of 240 companies in the city surveyed for a recent report by recruitment firm Hudson were planning to increase headcount in the second half of 2014 to take advantage of the city’s improving economy. The figure is 9.6 percentage points higher than in first quarter and is the highest recorded in the survey since the fourth quarter of 2011.
The Hudson Report: Employment Trends H2 2014 found that employers planning to reduce headcount dropped to 1.6 per cent, a three-year low and 5 percentage points less than the previous quarter. The remaining 50.6 per cent have adopted a wait-and-see approach by keeping their headcounts steady.
Companies forecast a more stable global economy with a potential for business growth, says Mark Andrews, director of banking and financial services at Hudson Hong Kong. “Companies are therefore inclined to maintain or increase their headcount to meet their business expectations,” he says.
Hong Kong’s economy grew by 2.5 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter and is forecast to grow by 3 to 4 per cent for the whole year. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April to June was close to a 16-year low at 3.2 per cent.
Andrews says companies’ recruitment plans are normally highest in the second quarter of each year. “Most companies have their budget and head counts approved around that time.” he explains.
The manufacturing and industrial industries outpaced other sectors in terms of hiring intentions, with 53.6 per cent of employers looking to employ new staff this year. This represents a jump of 23.6 percentage points from the first quarter. Leading the way in the sector is a strong demand for real estate and property management roles.
Yet some areas of manufacturing may not share the positive hiring outlook.
“I don’t see that, at least not in our trade,” says Willie Fung, chairman of the Hong Kong Garment Manufacturers Association.
In garments, jewellery and many other industries, most employers have set up factories in the mainland, with sales or marketing offices in Hong Kong.
The consumer industry posted the second highest positive hiring intentions in the bi-annual study from Hudson, with 49.2 per cent of employers opening their doors to new recruits– a 10.9 percentage point increase from the first quarter.
Hiring in the consumer sector is driven by growing demand for talent from the fast-moving consumer goods and retail segments. “Retail operations roles, such as store managers and visual merchandisers, are particularly sought-after in the market,” says Andrews, who has a successful track record of recruiting for both buy-side and sell-side institutions on contingency and retained mandates at Hudson.
The rosy hiring outlook does not extend to banking and financial services, where caution stays the norm due to changes in the China financial market. However, Andrews notes the 1.5 per cent decrease in recruiting intentions in the sector is the lowest recorded since 2011.
“[This] means financial institutions are holding strong in their position. Most banks are remaining stable in their headcount, rather than growing or reducing. They are also heavily focused on internal mobility and, instead of going external, are utilising skills they already have within the firm,” Andrews says.
Some analysts fear the recent softening in the Hong Kong consumption market could cause economic growth to slow, but Andrews sees it as merely a move from high-end to mid-range products, instead of a drop in purchases.
The report cites growing competition from nearby markets as likely to temper employers’ near-term hiring plans. “The challenge businesses are facing is how to rethink strategies to meet the customers’ needs and their purchasing behaviour.”