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Post-Easter blues

Published on Friday, 03 May 2013
Snapshots of global economic malaise include slowing retail sales in Hong Kong as mainland tourists stay away (pictured), China’s anaemic property market, persistently high unemployment in the US, and simmering public discontent in Greece, which continues to hobble Europe’s recovery.
Photos: Bloomberg and AFP
Snapshots of global economic malaise include slowing retail sales in Hong Kong as mainland tourists stay away, China’s anaemic property market (pictured), persistently high unemployment in the US, and simmering public discontent in Greece, which continues to hobble Europe’s recovery.
Photos: Bloomberg and AFP
Snapshots of global economic malaise include slowing retail sales in Hong Kong as mainland tourists stay away, China’s anaemic property market, persistently high unemployment in the US (pictured), and simmering public discontent in Greece, which continues to hobble Europe’s recovery.
Photos: Bloomberg and AFP
Snapshots of global economic malaise include slowing retail sales in Hong Kong as mainland tourists stay away, China’s anaemic property market, persistently high unemployment in the US, and simmering public discontent in Greece (pictured), which continues to hobble Europe’s recovery.
Photos: Bloomberg and AFP
Mark Enticott
Richard Letcher

Classified Post pay survey shows usual April sizzle has fizzled as firms and jobhunters remain wary

In years past, any annual chart of job ads or hiring in Hong Kong has shown a clear spike in the April to June quarter. Traditionally, with bonuses banked and budgets decided, that is the time when both employers and candidates are ready to make their moves.

But unless something dramatic happens over the next four weeks, 2013 looks likely to prove an exception to the rule. Companies, of course, are still recruiting. Replacement positions are being filled. New roles and new types of job are being created. The total number of people in work in Hong Kong is touching historic highs.

But the general mood remains one of caution, and it is not difficult to find the reasons. Firstly, there is the uncertainty about China’s near-term economic prospects. Next, good people may be in demand, but they are often reluctant to step into the “unknown” with a new employer. And thirdly, internal disciplines imposed by the financial crisis mean many firms are slow to approve extra headcount.

These factors are reflected in the findings of the latest Classified Post Pay and Job Mobility Survey, which analysed feedback from 2,895 individuals employed at different levels in Hong Kong’s main industry sectors.

When asked if they plan to change jobs in the next six months, 56.3 per cent of respondents said yes, with 43.7 per cent replying no. The key point, though, is that this is almost identical to the survey results for the previous three-month period, when 56.5 per cent of participants indicated they were contemplating a career move. As further comparison, it is also below the figure of 57.9 per cent recorded in the latter part of 2012.

Similarly, pay-rise expectations showed no significant change. Almost replicating results for the prior quarter, 48.7 per cent felt the best they could hope for was 5 per cent or less.

Somewhat more optimistic are the 34.9 per cent who think a pay rise of between 6 and 10 per cent is possible if their firms – and the wider economy – continue to perform. The overriding sentiment is that employers are still unlikely to loosen the purse-strings on compensation and benefits.

“For the overall job market, there is an upward trend, but we are seeing a lull,” says Richard Letcher, managing director of Profile Search and Selection.
“The first quarter was pretty good, but since Easter, things have been subdued, with less hiring than expected and a cautious approach.”

In some cases, this hesitancy springs from concerns about slackening mainland GDP growth and what that says about exports, inward investment, and domestic consumption. At other times, it is caused by overseas head offices seeking a tight rein on staff costs.

“Also, the big investment and retail banks aren’t recruiting on any large scale at the moment,” Letcher says. “If a role does come up, they may first try to fill it internally. However, they are looking to bring in people with specific expertise in risk, compliance and anti-money laundering.”

Other areas with new jobs and steady demand are sales and marketing, retail, digital media, e-commerce, and HR, where specialists are needed to oversee technical training and development programmes, and implement retention strategies.

“If we see a continuing pick-up, it is likely more people in certain sectors will object to being ‘overworked and underpaid’,” Letcher says. “In terms of hours worked, if you compare people here with counterparts in Europe or the US, it is chalk and cheese.”

Mark Enticott, managing director in Hong Kong for recruitment firm Ambition, sees several themes developing in the months ahead. Service-based industries, including hospitality and retail, should keep recruiting at a steady rate. Firms transitioning to greater use of digital marketing and ecommerce will create jobs there. Individuals with a niche skill set – in social media, product training or regulatory compliance – should continue to be in a strong bargaining position.

“The flip side is we see logistics, manufacturing and traditional-media employers being very cautious on hiring,” Enticott says. “Regarding training, companies spend to make sure staff are up to date with regulations and skills central to the job. But often they are not enhancing and upgrading people in the broader sense.”

In finance, things will stay slow, but jobs are being created in wealth and fund management, and specialist areas like client onboarding. “If the economy improves, staff look for a higher level of investment in themselves in terms of training, pay and chances of career advancement,” Enticott says.

"Employees are understanding when things are not going well. But if they see the firm and its senior executives doing better when they aren’t, it causes discontent.”

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