Good news, Asia's hiring

But employers are not looking for just technology skills. Overseas experience and soft skills count, too.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

If you are a project manager, networking engineer, applications professional or domain specialist, chances are you will have few problems getting a job in this part of the world. Better yet, you stand a better chance if you have chalked up overseas work experience.

Headhunters and industry observers in Asia are optimistic that the hiring trend in the IT industry will continue its upward climb, as economies in the region strengthen.

"Three years ago, demand was very flat. We were in the post 9/11, dot-com meltdown and Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) era…now demand is skyrocketing again to fulfill all the pent-up demand for IT," said Andrew Sansom, director of DP Search, which specializes in recruitment of IT professionals in the Southeast Asian region.

According to a market study published in April by human resources agency Hudson, permanent job prospects for China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore remain high for the second quarter of 2006. Expectations in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore are also at a five-year high (see chart, above ).

Hudson's April report also revealed that companies in China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore all forecast an increase in demand for IT professionals for the second quarter of 2006. The number of IT professionals against the total number of expected new hires ranged between 4 percent and 22 percent. In the January report, IT professionals were estimated to make up between 3 percent and 12 percent of those newly hired.

The job profiles in greatest demand are project managers, applications specialists, security professionals, network engineers and domain specialists, say spokespersons from recruitment agencies Adecco, DP Search, and Hudson, as well as the Singapore Computer Society.

But these days, it is not enough for IT professionals to be competent in their roles. They also need to understand the company strategy and relate the impact of IT to the business goals.

Top 'in-demand' jobs in Asia
Project manager
Applications specialist
Networking engineer
Security professional
Domain specialist
Source: Adecco, Singapore Computer Society, DP Search, and Hudson

"Employers are looking beyond employing people with basic technical skills, instead they look for IT architects who can develop products and solutions that meet the needs of industry," noted a spokesperson from the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.

With the growing trend in outsourcing, IT professionals "who can manage complex outsourcing contracts and translate intricate business needs into specific solutions" also appear high up on headhunters' lists, the IDA spokesperson added.

IT vendors are also on the lookout for senior sales and marketing personnel.

According to Yeo Gek Cheng, head of information technology and telecommunications at Hudson, "sentiments in the Asian economy have grown stronger quarter by quarter" during the past 12 to 18 months. Whereas previously sales and marketing roles, as with IT director-type roles, were not replaced when the positions were vacated, companies are now seeking candidates to fill up the positions, she noted.

Candidates who have overseas exposure are also in demand, Zoe Sullivan, a Hong Kong-based consultant at Hudson, pointed out. "Employers are definitely attracted to candidates who have either gained international experience or worked in an international company, rather than in a purely local business," she said.

Competition is stiff for top-end candidates, added Yeo. Some markets in the Asia-Pacific region may not have the talent pool, so there may be a tussle for talent from countries such as Singapore, she said.

"Employers are definitely attracted to candidates who have either gained international experience or worked in an international company, rather than in a purely local business."
--Zoe Sullivan

Hot sectors serve up hot jobs
According to some industry observers, "hot" technologies and sectors may appeal for jobseekers to join the IT industry, as opportunities in those areas grow.

Benjamin Tan, managing director of systems integrator and Internet service provider SuperInternet, singled out voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as one such area.

Melvin Tan, a technopreneur and owner of several startups, sees potential in the games and digital media industry.

With the projected increased demand for IT professionals, industry players note an oversupply in some areas, and a shortage in others. Chief information officers are in abundant supply, for instance, while the numbers of project managers and specialists fall short of demand.

"Overall, there are enough in terms of numbers, but retraining and recalibration of individual career expectations is required," said DP Search's Sansom.

But not everyone is optimistic that there will be enough skilled workers to fill up positions in the IT industry.

India's IT body, the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), and consultant McKinsey, for instance, warned that the country could face a shortfall of 500,000 IT staff equipped with the skills to work in the offshore outsourcing industry over the next few years.

Robin Chattree, Adecco's recruitment and business development manager of IT selection in Singapore, pointed out that it now takes a longer time on average--as long as six to eight weeks--to complete the hiring cycle in the island-state, as compared to the average waiting time of four to five weeks two years ago. "We are beginning to see a growing disconnect between the IT needs of our clients vis-à-vis the talent pool available in Singapore," he noted.

Another area that is facing a shortage of skilled personnel is RFID (radio identification), one of the hottest emerging technologies today.

According to Michael Mudd, director of public policy in Asia for Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), there are many businesses worldwide that currently feel there is insufficient skilled labor to manage RFID deployments. To alleviate the problem, the association launched on Mar. 28 a RFID certification program which validates a technician's RFID knowledge and skills.

Realistic expectations
The industry experts also called for IT professionals to avoid stagnating in their jobs by continually retraining and learning new skills. Another piece of advice: Set realistic expectations on salaries.

Said Adecco's Chattree: "IT professionals who have three to five years of working experience must focus on the opportunities that equip them with skills that would give them an edge in the long run and thereby ensure their employability."

IT veteran Lee Kwok Cheong, who is also president of the Singapore Computer Society, added that IT professionals need to not only pick up new skills that are in demand but also work on soft skills such as communication, interpersonal relations and change management.

Hudson's Yeo also highlighted a concern over job-hopping IT professionals. Employers, she noted, "start to question" the commitment of prospective employees whose resumes indicate a variety of positions held within a short timeframe.

"IT as an industry has always had many people moving around too quickly…going forward, people need to try and manage that," Yeo added.

However, job-hopping is not without its benefits. Adecco's Chattree noted that people who move on to other jobs "are getting up to 12 percent to 16 percent jump" in their base salaries.

Salary-wise, IT professionals are somewhat comparable to their peers in other industries, note the experts. However, most agreed that even though if IT salaries increase, they will not match those experienced several years back.

Lee added: "What is more relevant is, while average pay is not higher than other professions, good IT professionals will get good salaries. So it is still a good profession to be in."

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