Asia still on lookout for best IT talent

While the job market has turned in favor of employers, companies in Asia still find it tough to identify and attract the right IT talent, say recruiters.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

Employees once had a pick of the type of jobs they want, but the tide has changed and it is now an employers' market. However, even in the current economic landscape, organizations are finding it challenging to recruit the best talent.

E. Balaji, CEO of India-based recruitment agency Ma Foi Management Consultants, said: "We are seeing many companies use the current situation to hire good talent, as the expectations among candidates are now more manageable than it was a few quarters ago.

"In India, job seekers formerly expected salary hikes of above 35 percent and sometimes even 100 percent when they changed jobs. Now they are comfortable with 10 to 20 percent hikes," Balaji told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

At the same time, he said, employees in India are now particularly cautious about taking up new assignments--to the extent that several companies are finding it harder than before to recruit the right talent.

Kenneth Hung, IT and telecommunications (IT&T) managing consultant at Hudson Hong Kong, said while employers would strongly question the necessity to fill up vacant positions, companies in the Chinese territory still aim to hire the best talent.

But the most suitable talent may not necessarily want to change jobs in the current economic climate, Hung noted in an e-mail interview.

In Singapore, however, considerations over job stability and the viability of their employers have led talented IT workers to consider changing jobs, for companies that they think will offer better job security.

Yeo Gek Cheng, director of IT&T at Hudson Singapore, said this has increased the supply of talent in a "market where there's less competition for great hires". But while this creates an employer's market in the island-state, the challenge now for the Singapore offices of multinational companies is getting their headcount requisitions approved by corporate headquarters.

"A lot of hiring managers are frustrated at the lack of headcount commitment to Asia, which is seen as the only growth region to help propel revenue generation," Yeo said in an e-mail.

"We have a number of situations where a ready client and a ready candidate are in place, but the headcount approval process is stuck at the [global] corporate level and nothing can move in the meantime," she added.

Furthermore, she noted, the economy faltered "almost overnight", but new talent is not usually created in that short span of time. "[So while] demand for hiring has shrunk significantly, the supply of top talent has not [increased]," she explained.

Thus, in Singapore, the IT talent crunch remains tight in niche or growing technologies, Yeo said. "There is less competition for such talent now, but the competition is alive...[and at the same time], there are lower salary hikes and a more manageable recruiting process is in place."

Hard to find
Balaji noted that it is also proving very difficult to find and attract the best people in India. "They are worth the effort and money as their level of performance can be several multiples of what an average member is capable of," he added.

Yeo noted that retention was one of the key challenges companies previously faced when Singapore's job market was flourishing. The hasty and competitive recruiting process then "did nothing to solve the retention challenge", she said.

It will, therefore, be less of a challenge now--compared to six months ago--to hire workers, and employers can return to interviewing, screening and engaging with candidates in greater detail before finalizing an offer, Yeo said.

"This works for both sides and will help improve retention in the longer term," she added.

Overall, the market for tech jobs in Singapore will continue to provide good hiring opportunities, she said. To attract the talent they need, prospective employers must be more creative, she advised.

According to Balaji, it is not easy to identify "individual brilliance" with conventional methods such as interviews.

"Good candidates need to be attracted through smarter approaches," he said. "Conventional methods of looking at electronic databases...sending mass mail or [being approached] directly, are not going to work."

The preferred way to attract and retain the best people is to give them a meaningful and challenging goal, and offer attractive base pay and variable pay based on performance, Balaji suggested.

Yeo also advised IT professionals to focus on building their skills in areas of demand, instead of staying stagnant in their area of expertise.

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