SEA Talent Crunch Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Image credit: iStockphoto/Wachiwit

It's time companies wake up to the fact that the talent crunch will be here with us for the long term. So, Southeast Asian (SEA) companies need to calibrate their hiring strategies for a talent-driven market.

These were the conclusions of Robert Walters' global Salary Survey 2022. It surveyed hiring managers and employees worldwide to understand key trends in the coming year.

Overall, the study showed a shift in employees' perspectives of work. Companies that offer hybrid working models, extensive healthcare plans, and strong alignment on social and political issues while pro-actively pipelining talent will have a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent.

In SEA, hiring managers increasingly use tactics such as counteroffers to ease rising attrition rates as they ramp up operations.

Tech-focused talent will continue to face a talent crunch in 2022. The study noted that traditional industries are now expanding their tech services, which will create further demand for these talents.

Cooling hiring market

The study noted that most SEA economies, except for Vietnam and Thailand, rapidly rebounded in the first half of 2021. The rise of COVID-19 variants impacted manufacturing, but digital and tech experienced the most significant boost in hiring as digital transformation takes hold across all sectors.

Demand for local talent increased as expatriates returned home for good, and limitations in travel, visas, and work permits significantly reduced global mobility. This demand also accelerated attrition rates as employees changed jobs — a recurring pattern among countries that have come out of lockdowns.

In 2022, this study predicted that the hiring market would cool down slightly after a hectic boom. But skillsets to support companies looking to grow in fields such as technology, automation, and analytics would remain scarce.

Professionals in top demand across the region include those with financial services, with skillsets in digital transformation, customer engagement, virtual banking, and front office roles. Those with specific skillsets in 5G rollouts, data analytics, and blockchain and those who can support edtech, health tech, and automation in manufacturing will be highly sought after.

Hybrid working shapes employee perceptions

The pandemic has forced many companies and workforces to adopt hybrid working. Two years on, the experience has shaped the perspectives of work. Beyond hybrid work arrangement options, employees are willing to decline job offers from companies whose values do not align with theirs.

“We are looking at a talent-driven hiring situation in 2022, with the intense competition of talent with in-demand skillsets on the one hand and sharp attrition on the other," said Gerrit Bouckaert, Robert Walters’ managing director for South East Asia.

"Companies will need to do more to deepen the engagement with their existing employees. As companies prepare to adjust to the relaxation of workplace measures, tackling the issue of having a better work-life balance is key to a successful hybrid work arrangement,” he added.

SG sees job flow increases

After a largely conservative 2020, Singapore businesses ramped up their hiring in 2021 in preparation for growth. The report noted that the resulting increase in job flows across all divisions for permanent and contract roles saw hiring managers making more counteroffers to keep talent.

Based on the Salary Survey, 52% of Singapore employees are looking to change jobs within the next six months. The top three reasons cited are career progression (68%), salary increases (59%), and the perception that “it’s time for a change to try something new” (36%).

Meanwhile, 64% said they would not consider a counteroffer from their existing employer after accepting a new job offer. Key reasons cited include their commitment to the new job (47%), uncertainty over whether the current job can offer future job satisfaction (43%) or meet long-term career goals (36%), or that the reasons for leaving could not be overcome (36%). 

For those who will consider a counteroffer even after accepting a new job offer, top factors that pivot the decision include a salary increase (97%), followed by having a promotion (56%), and increased flexibility at work (32%).

The study noted that 88% of the respondents had accepted a counteroffer before. Among them, 75% stayed on for at least a year, while a quarter stayed on for at least five years in the company.

Employee engagement becomes pivotal

2021 saw an increase in the reliance on technology as work-from-home became more widely accepted, while businesses moved to strike a balance between technology and people.

A steep increase in focus on mental health and employee wellbeing saw companies look into virtual employee engagement strategies to prevent employee isolation. At the same time, they accelerated their digital transformation efforts concurrently. The study indicated a further drive to hire Singapore talent on a macro level.

"In engaging with existing employees, we encourage companies to take a more proactive stance to check-in regularly and have open and transparent discussions about areas such as career progression and job satisfaction. This will certainly go a long way to minimize the need for counteroffers later when they resign," said Monty Sujanani, country manager at Robert Walters Singapore.

In 2022, hiring trends will focus on people and technology. More companies are expected to hire support with finding candidates, while commercial and technology talents will continue to be in high demand across commerce and financial services sectors. 

Tech professionals with highly specialized technical skillsets, especially in emerging areas such as AI and machine learning, and other fields such as data, cybersecurity, digital, and e-commerce will see high demand. Professionals with skillsets in governance, compliance, and risk sectors, especially in dealing with financial crime, will be in demand in 2022.

Beyond technical skills, resilient, adaptable, flexible, and forward-thinking professionals who can manage teams and corporate culture remotely will be sought-after for their soft skills.

Salaries in areas such as technology are expected to increase significantly due to the talent shortage. Salary premiums of 10-15% are expected for professionals moving between jobs.

"When it comes to interacting with potential hires, move quickly, keep the entire interview process short, and maximize each engagement opportunity. Continue to hire and invest for potential, and for niche skillsets that are non-existent in the local talent pool, consider programs that help to bring Singaporeans with these skillsets back from abroad,” advised Sujanani.

Image credit: iStockphoto/Wachiwit