Specialized talent to top IT manpower demand

Recruitment experts say economic upturn in Asia will spark demand for IT jobs, especially roles that call for creativity. IT outsourcing, on the other hand, may have passed its heyday.

Skilled IT professionals such as software developers and project managers may now find it easier to secure a job, thanks to the burgeoning regional economy.

Job recruitment specialists ZDNet Asia spoke to pointed out that demand for this group of trained talent is back in the Asia-Pacific region, following a "slowdown" during the economic downturn two years ago.

In an e-mail interview, Lim Der Shing, CEO of online portal Jobscentral, said that network administrators, social media specialists and consultants who can strategize and influence business performance can look forward to more job opportunities. He also revealed that the site has seen a 10 percent increase of IT-related jobs being posted, as compared to same period last year.

Similarly, Thomas Kok, senior program director at the National University of Singapore (NUS), noted in an e-mail that professionals plying the risk and control trade, such as IT auditors, risk managers and business continuity managers, will be more sought after by employers in 2011.

Kiran Sundarrajan, practice leader for technology at PeopleSearch, gave further insight into how IT jobs will evolve, following the amalgamation of technology and business in today's corporate world.

According to him, 2011 is a "growth year", with emphasis on roles requiring creativity and innovation. These may involve business process improvisation, cost reduction and improving productivity, as well as new market expansion and staying ahead of competition.

Sundarrajan added that specific areas where IT skilled talent are in high demand are virtualization, cloud computing, green IT, social media, mobile payments and e-commerce. Compliance, security and support functions for financial regulations are also spheres in which trained professionals are needed.

Pay revision on the way
Jobscentral's Lim pointed out that the strong economic rebound has given businesses a boost, with many now looking to reward their workers who took pay cuts in 2009 and 2010.

"Unemployment is low in Southeast Asia and even lower for IT professionals. As such, it will increasingly become an employee's market for 2011. These factors will naturally lead to rising wages in the form of increments and bonuses," he said.

PeopleSearch's Sundarrajan put the increment figures at between 4 and 5 percent, which he said is the norm.

While the market may seem transparent and fluid for now, the rise in salaries will not be even across the board, noted NUS' Kok. He stressed that the market may still prefer those with "good, relevant experience, and those with relevant qualification and certification".

"Talent management, especially in the IT industry, is crucial in these strong market conditions, and we will see continued upward pressure on salaries," said Kok. "However, there will be differentiators--selected professionals may experience a larger rise in their salaries."

This sentiment was echoed by Sudarrajan. Top performers, he explained in his e-mail, are "treated well", and their remuneration and benefits package will largely be dependent on the forecasts for the year ahead as well as the previous year's performance.

With the greater emphasis on skilled manpower, more professionals are also signing up for upgrading courses.

The Qualified Information Security Professional (QISP) program launched in Singapore six months ago, has seen exceptional response with enrolment "exceeding expectations", according to Gerard Tan, the president of Association of Infocomm Security Professionals (AISP), which jointly developed the course with NUS' Institute of Systems Science.

In a phone interview, Tan revealed that 125 students had signed up for the program to date, of whom "quite a lot" are not in the security field. The course was run thrice in the fourth quarter of 2010, with two runs scheduled for the first half of this year.

Training mindset not future-proof
Sundarrajan noted however that in terms of training of workforce for future challenges, Asia including Singapore is still trapped at the "resource-driven" stage, instead of the ideal "result-driven" stage. This, he added, is hindering the region's manpower to more effectively carry out IT tasks.

"Ideally, a result-driven organization would look at the business point of view but Asia as a whole and even Singapore has yet to get there," he commented."While academic training can only enhance one's knowledge, it is on-the-job training that continues to hone the skills and prepare a better workforce."

Jobcentral's Lim remained positive nonetheless. According to him, Singapore's large pool of university-trained engineers and active government interest in the IT industry will be adequate to meet future challenges.

The rising number of locally-owned technology successes "shows we have the manpower and business know-how and support systems to keep up with changes in the field", he said.

Outsourcing to slow down
Lower manpower costs has seen Asia benefitting from IT offshoring for the last two decades, but industry observers pointed out that parameters have changed making the region less appealing as an outsourcing destination. In addition, MNCs may be less likely to offshore their functions en masse.

"[The decision to outsource] will depend on a multitude of factors, including the state of economies of Europe and the U.S. where most MNCs are headquartered, and whether there are planned expansions to focus on the growing Asia-Pacific markets," noted NUS' Kok.

Increased wages across India, China and Southeast Asia, as well as fluctuation between the greenback, the euro and Asia-Pacific currencies have put a slight dent on outsourcing, he added.

Similarly, PeopleSearch's Sundarrajan highlighted that companies continue to looking for cost-effective locations, and jobs may eventually flow to emerging countries such as Egypt, Brazil and Africa. According to him, the Asia-Pacific region will move toward self-sufficiency and cater to the region within.

"Outsourcing will continue for now but will slow down as countries all the over the world look at inflation and jobless rates, while policy makers will try to woo other economies to invest in its  market but limit its own [entities] from outsourcing," he noted.

Jobscentral's Lim argued however, that MNCs that did not make big investments during the recession years are now sitting on large cash positions and will look to expand this year. "This means that plans for outsourcing of IT services will resume and the traditional outsourcing centers of India, Philippines and Singapore will benefit," he concluded.