Locals have edge despite Europe IT talent influx to Asia

European IT professionals increasingly seek jobs in region, but find opportunities limited as some companies focus on localizing, recruiters say.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

The Euro debt crisis has re-ignited a surge in European IT talent looking for jobs in Asia, which has long been seen as a hub for them to gain international exposure. While they may be well-qualified and experienced, they have to compete with local candidates who may be preferred by companies in the region.

Dimitri Tsamados, Singapore-based partner at global executive search firm CTPartners, said he had seen a steady rise in the interest from European IT professionals to work in Asia over the last decade. "There was a spurt during the 2008 global financial crisis, and then a much bigger jump in 2011 due to the Euro debt crisis which cast a shadow over the European economy," he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

He said the IT brain drain from Asian to Western markets two decades ago has now reversed, with professionals from the mature, developed markets in Europe wanting to work in Asia. This trend was likely to continue, considering Asia is expected to have economic growth rates of 6 percent as compared to 1 to 2 percent in Europe, he explained.

While he declined to reveal exact numbers, Tsamados said between January and December last year, the firm saw a tenfold increase in the number of resumes from European IT specialists interested to work in Asia.

However, the job hunt was not uniform across the region, he revealed. China and Southeast Asia including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines were most sought-after by Europeans, who mainly hailed from the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. There were hardly any opportunities for foreign executives in Japan, Korea or Taiwan, he added.

Other executive recruitment firms also noted a similar pattern. Pri Sandhu, manager of the IT commerce division at Robert Walters Singapore, said in the last 12 months there had been a 5 to 6 percent increase in IT talent from both Europe and the United States of wanting to work in Asia--though more so from the U.S. The most sought after places were China, Hong Kong and Singapore, he added.

Edwin Lim, managing consultant, IT and telecommunications (IT&T) at Hudson Singapore, said although Europe's unemployment rate was high, "IT talents remained very valuable globally" particularly in domain areas such as social media, mobile and cloud.

Limited demand for European talent
However, recruiters also highlighted that the spike in Europeans eyeing Asian jobs was not necessarily met by hiring demand in the region.

Robert Walters' Sandhu said he has yet to see a matching demand for European IT professionals among Asia-Pacific companies, as most of them were keen to hire local talent and considered foreign talent as a secondary option.

CTPartners' Tsamados added that the recruitment hurdle could be higher for a Westerner to find a job in the Asian office of a multinational corporation (MNC) than at a local company. "By and large, MNCs in Asia want to localize their operations, so few will hire Westerners without strong justification. Asian companies won't have the same concern for localization, and they would be looking to tap international expertise."

Mignon Kwok, IT&T consultant at Hudson Hong Kong, said hiring demand for Europeans ultimately depended on the individual organization in the region as well as the availability of local talent with the relevant skills. For instance, several financial institutions in Hong Kong with new technologies transferred from the United Kingdom would need skilled project managers from Europe to assist with developing the platform, which were difficult to find in the local job market, he said.

IT&T consultant Candy Ho, also from Hudson Hong Kong, said there was still a niche was being filled by foreign hires, and this was typically for recruitment of regional roles middle to senior management level.

Hudson Singapore's Lim concurred, noting that Asian companies there were more talents at leadership levels in Europe compared to Asia by virtue of the maturity of IT solutions there, making them highly sought-after in the leadership space, he added. Some companies also appreciated their level of experience and exposure in some specialized segments.

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