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Working Space Age

The explosive growth in staff mobility is having a seismic impact on the future of office design

Feature23Nov13The workspace of today is undergoing a profound shift. As human living is transformed by the modern need for greater mobility, flexibility and sustainability, a revolution is taking place in attitudes to work environments.

“Space is changing,” says Simon French, global design director at Regus. “It’s not all about the four walls around you. Technology is freeing people from their desks, and workspace has got to reflect this. This means more drop-in space, more hot-desking, and more flexible multi-use spaces. Gone are the days of one person, one desk.” Continue reading Working Space Age

Profiles on social media get Likes and dislikes

tor.jpgThere is no denying that social media is now part and parcel of the way many of us work. With recruitment firm Robert Half putting the figure of Hong Kong professionals using LinkedIn at 600,000, the importance of social-networking websites to the business world is only expected to grow.

Social networking websites are among the most popular ways of nurturing professional relationships today, says Pallavi Anand, director of Robert Half Hong Kong. Continue reading Profiles on social media get Likes and dislikes

Growing Asian firms need cover in a risky world

statsAccording to leading risk management provider Aon, the continued menace of terrorist attacks and political violence is becoming a threat to global business growth. Its 10th annual Terrorism and Political Violence Map released this year reveals that 44 per cent of countries across the globe have an identifiable risk of terrorist attacks.

Continue reading Growing Asian firms need cover in a risky world

Be careful not to trip over uneven ‘people risks’

People Risk in AsiaAlthough people are the backbone of any business, they are also a key source of risk. A “people risk” is the possibility of a negative event occurring when recruiting, employing and reorganising talent that causes loss to a business. The extent of this risk can differ depending on the company and the country.

In an attempt to categorise people risk around the globe, Aon Hewitt has been ranking countries according to their people risk since 2011 in its annual ratings survey. The latest Aon People Risk Index this year has found that Asia-Pacific has the widest deviations in risk of any region worldwide.

For example, while Singapore ranked as the second-lowest people-risk city in the world, and Hong Kong the seventh lowest, there were also a number of very high-risk cities such as Chongqing, Hanoi and Phnom Penh. However, there is a lot of economic potential in these riskier cities and there is keen interest to invest in them.

“Asia-Pacific will continue to be an attractive location for business,” says Rick Payne, regional talent and rewards practice leader for Aon Hewitt in Asia-Pacific. “However, the region has the widest variance in risks related to recruitment, employment and redeployment of any region worldwide. Companies must carefully assess the risks they face in individual locations and identify the specific steps they need to take to address those risks.”

Sally Evans, Aon Hewitt’s research manager, adds says that while people risks are lower overall in developed nations, significant risks can still materialise as a result of ageing populations, uneven demographics and restrictive employee practices.

Singapore is a perfect case in point. The country has low people risk in regards to demographics, government support, education, talent development and employment practices. Despite this, however, the Singaporean government recently introduced measures to curb the influx of foreign talent which, while not affecting labour pools immediately, has the potential to harm Singapore’s ability to attract talent in the longer term.

“We anticipate Singapore may experience problems in the next few years with regard to demographics,” Evans says. “The government is tightening policies regarding the inflow of foreign talent, which will have an impact on Singapore’s ability to mitigate the risk of its ageing population and low birth rate.”

Hong Kong has slightly higher risks all round, except in demographics. However, it also has issues ahead for future workforce planning, and this is linked to the economy and fluctuating GDP growth.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong, unlike Singapore, is currently alleviating the risk of its ageing working population through pro-business immigration policies and high workforce productivity, Evans says.

“According to the People Risk Index, Hong Kong is low risk – one out of 10 – for low work productivity. In support of this, a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit rated Hong Kong as the most productive workforce in Asia in 2012,” Evans says.

On the other hand, across the border, the mainland’s tight labour market put a lot of mainland cities above the top 50 ranking in the index. There has also been a growing trend of companies shifting to inland, tier-two cities where costs are lower, but risk is higher.

“The shift inland is due to high costs in first-tier cities as well as new opportunities in these rapidly growing markets,” Evans says. “While the attraction of lower operating costs and new markets will continue to draw investors to tier-two cities, our study found significantly higher levels of people risk in these cities. We feel that people risk gives a lot of context to these lower costs.”

Janet De Silva, dean of Ivey Asia, has also witnessed this shift to secondary cities. She says these cities lack trained, informed sales and service staff and, above all, managers.

“The growing need for talented managers in China represents by far the biggest management challenge facing multinationals and locally owned businesses alike,” she says. “In a recent China Consumer Market Strategies study [conducted by Booz & Company and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai], 37 per cent of multinational companies reported that recruiting talent was their single biggest operational problem in China – a bigger problem than concerns about regulations, lack of transparency or intellectual-property rights.”

To combat the constricting talent supply, De Silva says that some overseas companies in China are now opening local academies and campuses, while Chinese companies are now offering management salary packages and benefits that match or exceed those offered by multinationals.

These actions can lessen risk in the respective locations in which they are carried out. Evans says that education is also another key area where people risk can be improved. Using Hong Kong as an example, she says that the current struggle for parents to find places for their children in Hong Kong schools will have an long-term impact on the quality of “home-grown” talent entering the workforce in the future. This is also true of any developing city that does not address its education supply and people risk correctly.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, April 20, 2013

Employers hunt overseas as local skills dry up

Employers hunt overseas as local skills dry upAlthough it has been a fairly good start to the year for the employment market, not everyone is cooking with gas just yet, as the Hudson Report: Employment Trends for Q1 2013 shows.

The report, which surveyed 5,900 employers from four major industries, found that IT&T (information technology and telecommunications) was the only industry with increased positive hiring intentions. On the other side of the coin, hiring intentions dropped seven percentage points in the consumer-business sector, ten points in manufacturing and industrial, and 0.5 points in banking and financial services (banking and financial-services employers also showed the strongest intentions to decrease headcount).

Tony Pownall, general manager of Hudson Hong Kong, says that the drop in the consumer-business sector reflects the fact that mainland visitors are not buying as much as they used to. Hiring in IT&T, meanwhile, is being driven by demand from businesses to improve both efficiency and profitability via technology.

“Permanent-hiring restrictions among some multinational corporations are resulting in increased demand for vendor services and there is a continuing trend towards the outsourcing of core IT functions,” he says. “Big data and the technology associated with manipulating it to support decision-making and improved customer relationships are also continuing to grow in popularity.”

The outsourcing trend is not just within IT&T. The report also shows that contracting roles are slowly growing in acceptance in Hong Kong, with a third of businesses using contractors more regularly.

Pownall says that part of the reason for this is that workloads are up 41.8 per cent compared to a year ago. This is being driven largely by more projects (according to 75.3 per cent of respondents), which naturally lend themselves to contracting support.

He adds, though, that stable jobs have always been favoured in Hong Kong. “High living costs and cultural-status issues drive a preference for permanent roles, and contracting is still not seen as a lifestyle choice as it is in other markets,” he says. “Sometimes companies switch contract roles to permanent roles in order to improve their chances of finding a good candidate.”

Good candidates with the right skills, however, are rather thin on the ground. Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong, says that this shortage is triggering companies to use more flexible staffing tactics, such as looking overseas or outsourcing.

“We still have a skills shortage and are seeing more employers willing to hire or sponsor qualified overseas candidates in skill-short areas,” he says. “Many more are now using flexible staffing approaches than in the past 12 months as part of a flexible approach.”

The use of these workers is likely to increase even more over the next year as Hong Kong looks set to continue as a candidate-short market, he adds.

This shortage goes a long way in explaining another of the Hudson report’s findings – that staff retention is the top HR priority for Hong Kong employers, with 28.4 per cent placing it above all other concerns.

“Employers are very aware of the challenges of securing the right talent, which are exacerbated by skills shortages and challenges in securing headcount approvals,” Pownall says.

He adds that employers are conscious of the fact that strong employee engagement is the key to staff retention, and a high staff turnover causes disruption and affects productivity.

“The right people in the right roles are critical to retaining staff, so giving due consideration to behavioural and motivational fit is important, as these are far more effective indicators of high performance than technical skills,” he says.

Pallavi Anand, director of Robert Half Hong Kong, says that she has also observed a fresh emphasis on staff retention recently as a result of companies being at greater risk of losing their best talent to competitors.

“Whether companies are looking to retain or hire new employees, they need to ensure that they are offering more than just an attractive salary,” she says. “Candidates want to clearly understand how a company can help them build their skill sets and develop their career. In such a competitive market, factors such as a clear career path, a commitment to work-life balance, and greater responsibilities and challenges will strongly influence individual career decisions and help firms attract and retain talent.”

Originally published in South China Morning Post, March 23, 2013

Workers stay bullish on economy and job hopes

The new Michael Page Employee Intentions Report reveals that most workers have faith in the strength of the Hong Kong economy. Completed in June, the online survey polled entry-level to senior-management professionals on salary expectations, confidence in the job market and general employment outlook.

Of the 700 respondents, 42 per cent rated the current job market as strong. Some 40 per cent also indicated they are likely to change jobs within the next six to 12 months, with over a third of those who wished to move citing career progression as their primary reason. Half of those surveyed also said they would ask their current employer for a pay rise.

In light of these results, employers will likely need to look at ways to hold on to staff over the next year, says Anthony Thompson, senior managing director for Hong Kong and Southern China at Michael Page.

“Employers need to focus on retention and will be expected to enter into salary negotiations to keep top talent – that is, individuals with the experience and knowledge to drive the business forward,” he says, adding that jobseekers are paying special attention to career development plans, something hirers should be wary of.

Employers should also be mindful of the fact that average salary rises look set to grow. Over a third of respondents are aiming for a rise of 6-9 per cent, far outpacing expectations from the same time last year.

However, Thompson adds that while remuneration is important, there are a number of other ways employers can encourage top talent to stay with them.

“We increasingly find that candidates are focused on their career path and not just what is in it for them now,” he says, pointing to the impact of career progression on willingness to stay put.

Part of what’s fuelling the higher expectations, he suggests, may be the current wealth of job opportunities. Much of this, Thompson says, is attributable to the strength of the mainland economy, which is prompting many firms based there to expand their operations in Hong Kong.

“There is no doubt that China’s economic strength and continued growth are a real positive for the employment market in Hong Kong. Asia overall is performing well compared with most other markets,” Thompson says.

The only exception may be the financial services sector, which continues to be hit by uncertainty, especially in Europe.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, September 2012