2020 is set to be a year of change in the Asia Pacific, as the region continues to face a challenging economic, environmental, and talent landscape; the latter being compounded by the head-long rush of digital transformation, automation and technology. Over the next 12 months, what can we expect from the job market in Singapore and Hong Kong? Natasha Madhavan, a talent expert in financial services, shares her thoughts in an interview with Money FM 89.3.
What are the possibilities of Hong Kong making a recovery this year?
It is a bit of untimely that everything has happened in a short spend of time, especially for Hong Kong. But as you rightly said, Hong Kong and Singapore are both strong financial backbones symbols countries. As much as things are slightly slowing down, we are still back for recovery. There is a very strong talent pool in both countries, so we are confident that we will recover.
I think Hong Kong is still going through adversity on both sides as you mention. What we see is just a bit of delay in the interview processes and a slight delay in making a decision. So far, we don’t see a complete hold on hiring.
Elaborate on the employment prospects for both countries.
I think the employment prospect is conservative, but still moving forward. Everybody - the banks, the financial institutions and even the corporates - has taken a step back and gone: “OK! What are the necessary roles? What are the nice to have roles?” But I am fully aware that it is industry-specific.
At the end of the day, businesses still need to move forward. Companies still need to have risk talent, legal talent and sales talent. Hence, I will say the employment prospect is conservative, but still moving forward. They will be looking in more necessary roles versus nice to have roles.
What can we expect for digital businesses in Singapore?
It will be a very interesting year. Let’s see how the digital banking licences go. I think it will shake the market up a bit. And the good thing is it will also push the traditional banks to be more innovative. It then creates some good healthy competitions to ensure that the banks are delivering forward-thinking products.
2019 was a really exciting year, we saw start-ups, new launches, western companies moving into Singapore. So this is great and I think it will be a really interesting year. It will not just push the tech firms but even the traditional banks to be more innovative such as new ideas. This can help to push Singapore forward in innovation.
For other professions, which sectors are expecting to increase headcount?
According to the Singapore budget 2020, it is quite an industry specific. But it is great to hear that especially in Singapore, the aviation sector and the sectors that are experiencing a bit more decline based on the current situation still getting support. I still feel that technology and eCommerce are where the headcounts going to be. Roles like cyber-security, database, know your clients (KYC) roles as banks and digital banks looking to bring on board new clients will be really important.
If you are working in the tech phrase, this is your year. If you are not, up-skill yourself on cloud and IT, keep yourself relevant.
Can we expect an increment of the average real salary in both countries and why?
I think Hong Kong will still see a little bit of increment, but it will be below the usual average. I guess the reality is people are still only going to move and only going to stay for financial incentive.
From the budget in Singapore that recently being announced, we know that the growth has slowed. So the salary increment will probably be slow. Sharing from a recruitment perspective, we have a couple of candidates on offer already this year, and they have gotten an increment.
Selby Jennings is now running a survey across Asia for job confidence level and employment prospects, this is not final result as the survey is still ongoing. Out of everyone that we have surveyed, 40% of the respondents still believe that they are going to get an increment. Also, 50% of respondents saying that their bonuses will be even slightly more or at least the same as last year. So I don’t think it will be a drop, I think we will still see increment but probably more conservatively and slightly below average.
What kind of approach is hiring managers adopting this year? Has the approach needed to change with the evolving COVID-19 outbreak situation?
This is a time for everyone to step back and ask the question to yourselves: “which roles are necessary to have?”. Some advice we can give is, if I am a hiring manager, take advantage of the situation. As other companies are slowing down their processes, take advantage of that and get ahead of the curve. This is because we will see a recovery, even if it is towards the end of the year. You want to be ahead of the curve and who you hire. Singapore is a hub for human capital, we’ve got some of the best talent in technology, cyber-security, governance around the region. So take advantage of it – grab it while everything is on a slow, as these roles are necessary to move your business forward anyways.
Might we see an increase or decrease in hiring? What contributes to this change?
I don’t think we will see a massive increase in terms of headcount. But we don’t think it will go into a decline.
Everybody is being more calculated, hence the hiring will be mainly for necessary roles. The other thing that will affect the headcount is internal mobility. Banks might not be increasing their headcounts that much, but what they will do is look internally and see where they can move people across. “Can we take people from our western offices and move them to Singapore?”, “What are the necessary roles?”.
Clouds is a necessary role at this moment at where technology is going. So I would say, It is not going to be a decline but these roles are necessary. Hence, the hiring intention will have slight increment but slow.
What can job seekers expect this year?
I will advise everyone to be more curious and need to up-skill themselves. If they are not that digitally savvy, it might be harder for them to find a role or look for change. I don’t think they will see massive amount of roles in a lot of new headcounts. Instead, it will be more through go and replacement headcounts. Hence, if you can up-skill yourself from the project side, cloud, or even generally on your communication skills. You will be ahead of the curve.
Also, don’t be too slow in making a decision, find something that you like, grab it before somebody else does.
As the demand for candidates with technological skills who are digitally savvy with language expertise will only continue to grow, what about candidates with other skill sets?
To run a business, you don’t just need a tech professional. Functions like risk, compliance and legal talent are very important as well. They are the back end just like the engine room of the business.
Although it won’t be massive increment on those headcounts, these skills will be needed to run a business. Especially in a time of turmoil, compliance, operation and risk professionals are those who keep the engine running for a company. Hence, those are the people that keep the business fluid and they are the ones that the company will need when things are going to pick up.
This interview was conducted by Money FM89.3 on February 20, 2020. It was originally published on Money FM 89.3 – Career 360.
Natasha Madhavan is the team lead for risk, legal, compliance and IT roles in Singapore's financial services sector. During challenging times, it is crucial to manage your most important resource: people. Get in touch with Natasha to discuss how you can effectively retain and attract talent. For job seekers, find out our latest openings or submit your CV for a private conversation.