Strong demand for HR professionals across Asia despite slow market

Author: Kate Whitehead | Date: 17 Aug 2016

Job adverts in China and Hong Kong both increased 25 per cent on last year, says report by Robert Walters

HR professionals are in demand despite slower growth across much of Asia’s employment market, according to a recent recruitment report.
The Robert Walters Asia Job Index Q2 2016 found that adverts for HR executives across the region increased 19 per cent - the largest rise among all professions. The index tracks job ad volumes for professional organisations across leading recruitment platforms and newspapers in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia.
“This demand has been ongoing since 2010, it hasn’t waned,” said Tiffany Wong, associate director at Robert Walters.
Demand was greatest in China and Hong Kong, which both saw a 25 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of job adverts. In China, talent acquisition positions saw the greatest demand. Wong said the development of China from a low-cost manufacturing centre to a global economy meant HR’s role was being transformed from a largely operational one to one more closely involved in business strategy and helping organisations go global.
“There is a demand for people with strong commercial acumen, who can offer insight and support. And as many organisations are headquartered in Germany or the UK with factories in China, those who are bilingual are in huge demand,” said Wong.
In Hong Kong, she said the focus was on replacement roles. “We are not seeing as many newly created roles in Hong Kong as before. The economic climate has made employers cautious, but there will always be replacement roles and an ongoing demand for up-scaling.”
But it is a different story in Singapore, where job ads for HR professionals fell by five per cent compared to the same quarter last year. Wong attributed this largely to the movement of operational HR functions - such as transaction processes, training support and general administration - out of the country.
“Salaries in Singapore are a lot more expensive than other countries and these are functions that can move somewhere else,” said Wong.
Emily Smith, Elliott Scott Group’s COO, agreed that the Singapore market has slowed and pointed to neighbouring ASEAN countries that are taking on some HR functions.
“There are increasing numbers of shared services being moved to emerging markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam. It’s often bigger organisations that can dial in and get HR advice,” said Smith.
But she didn’t see as rosy a picture for Hong Kong as the index suggested and expressed surprise at the reported strong demand.
“Job ads are not necessarily indicative of what’s happening. In a slow market, the same job may be advertised a number of times,” said Smith.
Compared to last year, Smith sees a much slower and more competitive market in Hong Kong with an increasing focus on transformational roles. These might be to do with transforming HR structure - particularly in banking and finance - or with technology and implementing new systems. “All this could mean a leaner HR system in the end,” she said.
For HR professionals looking for opportunities in the region, Smith said it’s easy to point to the emerging markets, but quality of living, total compensation and other factors mean they are not a practical option for everyone.
She expects key growth areas in HR to be transformational roles and shared services, with continued demand in talent management and generalist HR roles.
Wong advised HR executives to do all they can to get involved in the business: “Take the time out to understand what the business is doing, understand the challenges and build on commercial awareness. Network with stakeholders inside and out, be proactive in terms of giving advice and engage in professional social media tools.”