Executive hiring in Asia slows sharply as firms cut costs

Executive hiring in Asia slows sharply as firms cut costs

Hong Kong: Job openings for executives in Asia are dwindling, notably in Hong Kong where they are at a seven-year low, as the economic downturn is proving severe and forcing many companies to freeze hiring, a survey by recruitment firm Hudson showed on Wednesday.

Only 18% of companies surveyed in Hong Kong said they would hire executives this quarter, down from 32% in a previous survey three months ago, and the lowest level since early 2002.

The territory is being hit by its reliance on financial services where job opportunities are particularly low as initial public offerings and acquisitions have dried up, although demand for insolvency and dispute resolution practitioners is growing, according to the survey. In Singapore, prospects are not much better, with 23% of companies there saying they would add senior staff this quarter, down from 37% in the previous quarter. In Japan 31% of firms plan to hire, down from 43% three months ago.

The survey covers Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore -- which are all in recession -- and China, which is seeing a sharp slowdown after six years of double-digit economic growth.

There is still an acute shortage of managerial talent in China yet only 34% of firms plan to hire executives this quarter, compared with 44% last quarter, the survey shows. The consumer sector offers the best opportunities, while 15% of respondents in the IT&T sector say they are reducing headcount.

Across the region, hiring expectations in banking and financial services, as well as media, public relations and advertising are low, although in Japan the shift towards digital media is creating opportunities in media, according to the survey.

Investment banks have been slashing headcount in Asia as part of global staff cuts, affecting Hong Kong and Singapore in particular, although job losses so far have been mild compared with in New York and London.

Many jobs in the trade sector could also be vulnerable in Asia as exports in Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong fell at double-digit rates in December from a year earlier and are expected to remain in a slump in the first half of this year amid weak consumer demand in advanced economies.

The quarterly survey by Chicago-based Hudson Highland Group Inc covered responses from nearly 3,000 managers at multinational firms across industries in the four markets.

As job opportunities shrink, employers are under less pressure to raise salaries to attract good managers. Even in China, 15% of companies said they would not be increasing salaries for new managerial staff.

Half of companies in Japan, and a third of Hong Kong companies, say they will not increase salaries to attract new hires. Singapore firms are under more pressure, with only 10% of respondents saying they can freeze new hires’ salaries, because filling critical niche roles remains competitive.

Bonus payments are being slashed across the region, notably in Japan where 35% of survey respondents said they would not be paying any bonus. Employees in banking and financial services would be most affected.