Recession need not mean unemployment

Some IT jobs in the Asia-Pacific region are more recession-proof than others, as are jobs with reputable employers, say HR experts.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

Should current economic uncertainties grow into a full-blown global recession, HR professionals say some IT jobs in the Asia-Pacific region can be more recession-proof than others.

Yeo Gek Cheng, director for IT and telecommunications (IT&T) at recruitment consultancy Hudson Singapore, said all IT jobs that are non-sales in nature will be the first to be scrutinized by employers. Payroll is the largest cost on any corporate spreadsheet and as such will be reviewed against the returns, Yeo noted in an e-mail interview.

"Sales roles will also come under the microscope, and sales people with a healthy 'pipeline' and activity will be more recession-proof than other tech positions," she said.

"It is even more critical than ever for management to expect salespeople to pull through deals and bring in the money," she noted.

Raymond Wong, managing director of Tony Keith Associates, a subsidiary of Hudson in China, said cost control is the focus of many IT companies in China, too--even as the country enjoys economic growth and is less affected by the financial turmoil.

"Sales and engineering positions will still be important and contribute to productivity efforts," Wong said in an e-mail interview. However, some non-sales and non-engineering positions, such as those in business development and marketing, have been kept to a minimum, he said.

Linda Strazdins, manager of IT&T at Hudson Japan, believes in-house engineering roles will remain in demand as end-user IT systems support will continue to be a necessity.

"Across the board within the technology discipline, sales positions will be retained although we would expect to see marketing and backoffice support functions affected," Strazdins told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

"Within finance technology, infrastructure-related support roles will not be as directly affected as development roles that are offshored to locations within the pan-Asia region for cost purposes," she said.

Ellis Seder, IT&T manager at Hudson Hong Kong, expects new IT projects and system upgrades to be put on hold across most industries for 2009.

"We expect the project and program management employment to come to a standstill," said Seder in an e-mail interview.

He added that to bring down costs, functions will be combined. Business and support analyst roles, for example, will be merged, as well as desktop support and disaster recovery.

"This would allow a company to hire one person instead of two," Seder said. "IT professionals will need to be adaptable and take on a wider range of responsibilities to add value."

Referring to past trends, Roger Olofsson, IT associate director at recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, said IT jobs in general are more resilient in a recession.

"During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, supporting jobs like IT were not badly hit and quickly recovered," Olofsson said in a phone interview.

Choosing recession-proof employers
While no amount of preparation can guarantee job security, candidates can make more educated decisions when deciding on prospective jobs or employers.

Hudson's Yeo suggested candidates conduct thorough checks on a company's overall financial health, as well as keep abreast of business news concerning the organization.

"Investigate further into the business unit you are joining--its track record, culture, the management's track record, market reputation and the business support it has in place," she said. "Ask the hiring managers questions about their views on the market and their expectations of the role, and review these against your own expectations to ensure all are aligned and agreed upon."

Olofsson suggested candidates look closely at the industry in which the prospective employer plays. He explained that while the financial industry appears to be less stable now, some tech jobs within financial services remain stable.

"Look at it at a company level, [as some financial companies] are much safer bets for IT professionals," he said.

According to Olofsson, the public sector currently offers the "safest" job options. "Governments are not going to cut the workforce," he said.

In addition, a recession will provide more opportunities for freelance, part-time and contract jobs.

"We have already been seeing [more demand for these jobs] over the last three months," said Olofsson.

He noted that each time the economy suffered a major downturn, such as in 2003 during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) epidemic and in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, there had been a rise in the number of part-timers.

Some employers will also look at offering positions with flexible working hours, he said. He added that in Singapore, for example, such arrangements will complement the government's call for a better work-life balance as well as its incentives for couples to have more babies.

There is also a shift in mindset among employers toward offering part-time employment, which helps companies save costs during an economic crisis, Olofsson said.

Concurring, Yeo said: "In a recession, such opportunities will definitely be on the rise, as permanent headcount becomes a luxury but the work still needs to be done."

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