SINGAPORE: Vibrant growth across Asia has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and recruitment specialists say the labour market is staring at a serious skills shortage - with big ramifications for the regional economy.
”We are now facing a talent war in Asia,” says Kathleen Chan, a recruitment manager for Panasonic Asia Pacific, which employs about 77,000 workers in the region to produce the electronics products the company is known for.
Accounting, IT and marketing are among the sectors where demand for experienced staff is most acute, with Singapore and Hong Kong joining India and China as the countries where hiring is strongest.
In Singapore, for instance, a record 176,000 new jobs were created in 2006. Australia has been importing more workers than at any time since the 1980s. And jobless rates have slid to multi-year lows in North Asian economies such as South Korea and Hong Kong.
Two big implications from the labour squeeze stand out.
First, countries are either trying to attract skilled workers from abroad or encourage nationals working overseas to come home.
Second, and potentially of more concern to policy makers, is the impact on wages.
”One risk is that you start to see wage pressures building,” said Lehman Brothers regional economist Rob Subbaraman. ”The policy risk is that eventually wage pressures lead to inflation and you have to have higher interest rates to cool inflation, which can lead to slower growth.”
This scenario is already starting to play out in some of the hottest sectors.
THE HEAT IS ON
Dhiren Shantilal, a recruitment executive at global firm Kelly Services, says IT, banking and biomedical jobs are getting more expensive in three of Asia’s bigger economies.
”We anticipate experienced new-hire salaries to increase by 8-12%, and existing top management/senior executives’ pay to increase by 15-20% in developed economies like Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong,” he said.
Recruiters expect no let-up in hiring this year as Asia continues to lure foreign investment. China and India are leading the way.
”The demand for qualified people is massive, and the overall optimism fuelled by the economic boom in China and India is placing huge demands on resources,” said John Patterson, HR director at Diageo Asia-Pacific , the world’s largest alcoholic drinks company.
While China has emerged as the region’s dominant manufacturer, India has developed a booming business in services. By 2010, India may need more than 160,000 foreign language speakers to feed its growing offshoring industry, according to a study by research firm Evalueserve.
Large companies in China and India are on a drive to entice nationals working abroad to return, said Shantilal.
Shantilal of Kelly Services expects at least a 10 per cent rise in the Chinese and Indian workforces this year.
Other parts of Asia are similarly seeing hiring take off.
Guy Day, Asia managing director at the recruitment firm Ambition, noted that Singapore is increasing its intake of expatriates and back office jobs are plentiful.
One company that illustrates his point is Standard Chartered Plc. The British-based bank expects to boost headcount in Singapore by nearly 60% to 6,000 by 2010 as it expands and develops its private banking business.
Another is Panasonic. Chan said the firm expects to raise its Singapore headcount by about 1,000 to 13,000 over the next three years. ”The majority of the hiring would be for middle managers and about 1% of the increase would be engineers.”
HUNT FOR TALENT
Australia brought in nearly 143,000 foreign-born workers in fiscal 2006, the biggest influx since the late 1980s. Skilled workers made up more than two-thirds of the intake.
But not all countries in Asia have fared so well.
Malaysia is said to be losing workers to China and Singapore and cannot train up new workers fast enough to meet current demand.
”In Malaysia, we are effectively left with a service industry and higher-end manufacturing that needs all kinds of skill sets that are not there,” said a Malaysian business executive. ”There is a stress in getting people. I have difficulty in getting even good accountants.”
A strong currency and political uncertainty have brought different problems to Thai firms.
Naronridt Sompunno, HR manager at Gold Mine Garment Co., Ltd., said its views on employment had changed and that the garment firm was now only hiring employees to replace those who had resigned.
”Because our revenues mostly come from exports that have dropped due to a firmer Thai baht, we are trying to spend less money,” he said.