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Asia On Demand – Perspective of a Recruitment Agency

Joshua Yim, CEO of Achieve Group in Singapore discusses the current recruitment trends and hot hiring sectors across the Asia Pacific.

The changing winds of fortune have been wafting towards the east ever since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-2009. Developing countries in Asia have experienced a growth spurt in recent years, with China leading the way. The country’s accelerated double-digit growth over consecutive years, coupled with a surge in domestic consumption, has played a significant role in pulling the global economy out of recession. China is now the world’s second largest economy after the United States. And its neighbours are still benefitting from the Republic’s spectacular growth story. It is thus no surprise that the flurry of economic activity in the Asian region has caused a corresponding spike in the demand for talent, spelling good news for us recruiters.

Current Outlook

In general, the Asian economies are still very buoyant and this bodes well for the recruitment market. While China’s red-hot economy has been cooling slightly in the past year, it appears that the country may experience a soft landing instead of a hard one, as it has put the brakes on rising inflation and escalating property prices with some success.

Other star economies in Asia are Singapore and Hong Kong while the domestic economies of Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are also quite strong.

As a regional player, the Achieve Group is still witnessing a lot of human capital needs in Southeast Asia over the past few months, despite the sovereign debt crisis in the European Union that persists.

Having said that, however, some multinational corporations (MNCs) operating in the region are quite concerned about how the eurozone issues will pan out and this uncertainty may postpone their expansion plans.

Domestic demand for talent is still driving some of the developing economies, irrespective of the situation in the eurozone. The first and second tier cities in China such as Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing, for instance, are experiencing a phenomenon in which high-level talent – experts in their various fields – are in great demand.

The recent democratisation of Myanmar and lifting of trade sanctions is expected to trigger a surge of growth as the country begins to open up to foreign investment. There is an immediate need for urban planning in the development of townships and infrastructure such as roads, sewage and transportation systems in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest and most isolated countries. We understand that Myanmar is starting to welcome greater numbers of expatriates who are needed to help build up the necessary infrastructure and get the country modernised.

Recruitment Trends

A distinct trend that has emerged following the last financial crisis is an inclination towards contract roles, in East Asia at least. It appears that a lot of companies including MNCs are eschewing hiring on a permanent basis and opting for contract workers instead. This is likely due to the fact that economic cycles are getting shorter and market volatility has become the new norm.

Employees, too, are now more open to taking up contract roles as compared to yesteryear. The economic uncertainties of recent years have shaken up the notion of job security as the last wave of layoffs has shown that even permanent staff are not impervious to receiving a ‘golden handshake’. Additionally, the side benefit of being on a short-term contract is that such employees are generally paid higher per month than their colleagues who are hired on a permanent basis.

The above has certainly impacted employee loyalty, which appears to be at the lowest levels we have seen in our 22 years in business. Employees in Asia have become wise to the fact that if the MNC they are working for so much as experiences staff cuts in their respective corporate headquarters around the world, their jobs may be in danger, even if the MNCs’ Asian outposts may be doing well.

This is exacerbated by the arrival of Generation Y workers into the larger workforce, who are known to lack a sense of loyalty towards their employers. This group is characterised by their need for instant recognition and gratification, and will think nothing of defecting to a competitor company if their current employer does not meet their demands. This is especially so in the major cities in the Asia Pacific such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where the unemployment rate is very low, and citizens are generally more affluent than their developing neighbours.

This phenomenon has also given rise to the need for greater employee engagement, which is a hot topic in the HR community, and one of the major reasons why the Achieve Group launched an HR Consulting division last year to assist companies in enhancing the engagement of their employees as well as improving their HR capabilities and frameworks. Given the current economic outlook, we are also seeing a talent war for more experienced, senior level executives, especially those holding business development, sales, marketing, and project management portfolios. Conversely, fresh graduates are seemingly much less in demand these days.

Sector Spotlight

With economic growth tipping in favour of the East rather than the West, we have observed that local banks in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are reporting strong earnings vis-à-vis their foreign counterparts that are also operating in these countries. It is interesting to note that while the local banks in the respective countries may be in expansion mode, some of the global names are redeploying or even retrenching.

In general, some of the hottest sectors in East Asia include pharmaceuticals, healthcare, hospitality, energy, and construction, as there is a great necessity for infrastructure development. However, up north in Shanghai, for instance, all sectors are booming – as is the case in many of China’s other fast-rising cities.

Indeed, there has never been a better time in all of history to seek your fortune in Asia, as abundance and affluence clearly awaits.

Source:, June 2012