Asia hiring outlook dips further

Fourth-quarter hiring expectations continue to tumble in Singapore, China and Hong Kong as firms more cautious amid volatile global economy, but company performance unaffected, Hudson reports.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Multinational corporations in Singapore, China and Hong Kong have all lowered their hiring expectations once again for the fourth quarter of this year, thanks to increased cautiousness amid a volatile global economy, but this uncertainty has not dampened optimism regarding their organization's business performance for the next six months.

According to a report released Wednesday by recruitment agency Hudson, hiring expectations in Hong Kong plunged from 61 percent in the third quarter to 38 percent in the fourth quarter. The steep decline was an inevitable "correction", as Hong Kong's rapid recovery from the 2008 recession saw an "unbroken rise" in hiring expectations for two straight years since the third quarter of 2009, it noted.

Over in Singapore, fourth-quarter hiring expectations fell to 42 percent from 56 percent between July and September. MNCs in China were found to have the highest expectations, with 64 percent aiming to grow headcount between October and December--a slightly smaller dip from 72 percent in the previous quarter.

Conducted in September, the quarterly Hudson Report polled nearly 1,700 employment decision-makers based in Singapore, Hong Kong and China, namely Shanghai and Beijing. Specifically, 463 respondents were from Singapore, 564 in Hong Kong and 667 in China.

The third-quarter Hudson report in July had earlier reported a decline in hiring expectations as well. The continued slump across all three Asian markets this quarter is unsurprisingly, given the volatile global economy which has made employers more cautious and concerned about adding headcount, said Mike Game, CEO of Hudson Asia.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, he also emphasized the lowered expectations was not a knee-jerk reaction to cut costs, since firms weren't reporting hiring freezes or even downsizing. "This isn't an expense-driven issue as much as a sentiment-driven one, [which is] due to mid-term uncertainty about the trajectory of revenue or top line caused by the current economic conditions," he said.

Hiring, Game explained, is sentiment-driven. That is why the anxiety and volatility in the global economy has impacted the decision-making of companies for the future--one of which is hiring--even though there is no deterioration in business performance outlook, he said.

The study found that despite the drop in hiring expectations, more than 75 percent of companies across all three economies remained bullish about their companies' performance for the next six months.

Even in Hong Kong, where hiring expectations plummeted, 76 percent of respondents forecasted excellent or good performance. Those in China were the most confident at 81 percent, while 77 percent of Singapore executives were optimistic about their company's prospects.

IT&T sector holds steady
The IT&T (IT and telecommunications) sector was the only industry in China where companies indicated they would increase hiring, from 64 percent in the third quarter to 75 percent for the fourth quarter, thanks to increased revenues during the first half of this year, Hudson said in the report.

In Singapore, IT&T respondents were more confident than all the other sectors about their companies' performance, with 23 percent citing an excellent outlook, it added.

Game said the "ongoing strength" of the industry and confidence expressed by tech vendors contributed to the overall optimism of business performance found in all three Asian markets.

The IT&T sector is currently benefiting from strong product pipelines, such as tablets and smartphones and also pent-up demand from companies which are returning to pre-recession levels of IT budgets, he pointed out.

Gen Y management problems need attention
Hudson also looked at companies' management challenges presented by Generation Y workers, defined in the study as those aged below 30. It found that a majority of respondents in all three markets faced problems managing Gen Y staff--66 percent of respondents in China reported so; this was also the case with 62 percent of those based in Singapore, and 59 percent in Hong Kong.

In China and Hong Kong, unrealistic job expectations and a lack of loyalty were the two biggest management issues associated with younger employees, while in Singapore, employers cited unrealistic job expectations and impatience as their main challenges with Gen Y workers.

Being quite different from those in the older generation, the Gen Y workforce has characteristics such as being highly-educated, ambitious and independent, and also tend to question, said Game. These attributes may present particular issues for superiors and managers.

But given that Gen Y workers are the "employees of the future" and will make up the core of the workforce, the human resources fraternity must grapple with how to create a work environment that motivates and retains this category of staff, he noted.

Measures such as encouraging initiative and independent thought, providing mentorship or coaching programs, and offering flexible timing for work-life balance were some of the top initiatives used by companies across all three markets to make the workplace attractive to Gen Y hires, according to the report.

Game said these efforts are in the right direction, as Gen Y employees want a work environment that fosters and supports their ongoing learning and development, where authority is earned, and lets them feel autonomous or independent.

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