EMPLOYERS in Asia remained cautious about hiring in the last quarter of 2016 on the back of regional and global concerns stemming from China’s weakening economy, UK’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s rise to power in the tumultuous US elections.
The Chinese economy, the world’s second largest after the US, marked its slowest growth since 1990 last year when it expanded by just 6.7 percent, compared with 6.9 percent a year earlier. The data sounded alarms across the world as a slowdown in China, as a key driver of the global economy, poses serious concerns for global investors.
Robert Walters in its Asia Job Index for Q4 2016: Asia At a Glance said one upshot on the job market was that many firms, taking cognisance of uncertainties in the global economy, became more cost-conscious as the year came to a close and tightened hiring budgets and offshore services to lower cost locations compared to the corresponding period in 2015.
However, the international recruitment consultancy said there was a particular surge in demand for professionals within the financial services and information technology, driven by new market entrants and exponential growth in these sectors.
Due to the entrance of tech start-ups and the drive to strengthen technology infrastructure and boost consumer engagement, the IT sector saw a 10 percent increase for technology professionals, such as user interface designers, with experience in developing the latest technologies and platforms.
The legal and compliance sector saw a nine percent increase in demand, with new and stricter regulatory and compliance laws that ensured demand for legal and compliance professionals remained healthy.
“With the rise of anti-money-laundering functions in safeguarding firms, candidates with specialist skills in transaction monitoring and subject matter expert advisory remained particularly sought after,” Robert Walters said in a press release.
Hiring for Human Resource talent, according to the report, remained steady across industry, with the majority being for replacement roles.
“With many firms focused on retaining staff, there was a rise in demand for roles in talent management, leadership development and compensation and benefits.” – report
“Localisation of talent was a priority across most markets, and firms continued to seek both domestic talent and those returning from overseas to fulfill key strategic positions,” the report further said.
For the Asia job index, the firm tracked job advertisement volumes for professional positions across the leading job boards and national newspapers in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.
In China, job advertisement volumes remained “healthy” during the last quarter and were specifically high within the technology and e-commerce sectors as the government continued its drive to build a high-tech and high-value economy.
Job vacancies in IT rose by 25 percent across the digital and financial technology industries last quarter, mainly due to robust ongoing development of the sectors and the government’s “Internet Plus” strategy. The consultancy firm said professionals with technical skills in big data, Internet finance and robotics in particular, were in demand.
Hong Kong recorded a 12 percent increase in overall job advertisements, with early signs of returning market optimism driving the rise in annual job advertisements last quarter.
Matthew Bennett, the consultancy’s managing director of the Greater China region, said there was a slight upturn in activity in the third quarter of 2016, which encouraged businesses to be a little more confident about expanding hiring budgets.
Bennett pointed out the 27 percent rise in demand for legal and compliance professionals was mainly due to stricter regulatory and compliance laws which impacted the banking and financial services sectors, among others.
“Specifically, compliance experts proficient in anti money-laundering, corporate crime, fraud investigations and policy review were sought after by employers.” – Bennett
Malaysia, on the other hand, recorded a mere one percent increase in job postings in the last quarter of 2016.
Robert Walters Malaysia’s managing director Sally Raj said the slight rise in annual job advertisements was not surprising as professionals remained cautious about changing jobs due to challenging market conditions.
“Firms also slowed hiring at the end of the year as companies reviewed budgets and business plans for the following year,” she said.
However, she said new jobs were generated as new market entrants continued to expand their operations in Malaysia.
“This was mainly thanks to the country’s low operating costs,” Sally said.
She said a number of e-commerce startups, for example, created more job opportunities for IT experts such as software developers and those proficient in cyber-security.
“To overcome talent shortages in these areas, many employers focused on attracting Malaysians based overseas and we expect this demand for returning Malaysians to remain healthy through 2017.” – Sally Raj
Singapore was the only country in the index to see a decrease in volume of job advertisements, which Robert Walters managing director for Southeast Asia Toby Fowlston said saw decreased hiring budgets in a bid to save costs and continued offshoring to cheaper cost locations, especially in the investment banking sector.
Fowlston said sectors such as oil and gas and manufacturing also remained under duress due to ongoing economic uncertainty.
However, he said more firms shifted from traditional retail to e-commerce supported by rising government investment in the local tech start-up ecosystem.
“This drove vacancies for IT experts proficient in developing latest technologies and platforms,” Fowlston said.
With more firms investing in technologies that boost consumer engagement, Fowlston said IT job advertisements grew by 30 percent.