On the one hand the jobs market is booming and there are plenty of vacancies. The Harvey Nash CIO Survey of 2014, for example found 76% of Hong Kong and China CIOs were concerned about a technology skills shortage. A further 42% said they were planning to increase headcount last year and APAC MD Nick Marsh told me by email that he “expects to see that demand continue” this year.
Skills particularly in demand, he said, are big data, mobile, cloud and digital, although more traditional areas are also important. “Fundamental areas such as project management, enterprise architecture, and business analysis are still the top areas of skill demand,” he said.
Candidates with leadership capabilities and “exceptional communication skills” as well as those who can demonstrate an ability to innovate will be favoured.
However, Marsh also warned that employers in the region are increasingly likely to favour “glocals” – that is, locals who have overseas education and/or experience.
This is bad news for the ex-pat IT job seeker looking to land a plum job in China or Hong Kong.
“Candidates should focus on the strength of their understanding of the local market, customers, and their industry,” Marsh advised. “This understanding is critical, and without it they are likely to lose out to local or ‘glocal’ talent.”
More bad news came in the form of a recent Regus study on office stress in Hong Kong and China.
It found that in Hong Kong, working to deadlines (24%) was rated stressful by a far higher percentage than the global average (14%), while “colleagues” (11%) was more than double the global norm of 5%.
Unreliable or obsolete technology (26%) and a lack of staff (28%) were also major factors.
“When employees don’t have a good work/life balance, they feel overstretched, unhappy and, ultimately they become less productive,” Regus Hong Kong country manager Michael Ormiston told me. “Flexible working can alleviate some of the pressures that create stress, while at the same time reducing a company’s costs.”
Given that most employers in China and Hong Kong are putting ex-pats on local packages these days, a move out East is becoming less and less attractive to Western IT professionals. It might be worth staying put for the time being.
The start of a new year is as good a time as any to begin thinking seriously about a possible career move. Given the very early stage of economic recovery in the UK, there are limited possibilities at home, so what about taking the leap to Asia? After all, it’s one of the global economy’s strongest performing regions and in markets like China there are huge sums of public and private money being invested into IT upgrades and infrastructure projects.
Well, I spoke to several recruitment experts in China, Hong Kong and Singapore to get the low down on the opportunities, but also the challenges for job-hunting ex-pat IT pros.
First up is China. According to Michael Page senior manager Joshua Rafter the job market is stable and growing, with pharmaceutical, healthcare, chemical, retail, automotive and technology sectors growing particularly strongly. Skills in demand include business-facing roles such as project managers and business analysts.
Hong Kong is also looking pretty positive, although more so in the commercial rather than the financial sector. Roles in demand there include app devs, help desk analysts, system admins and business analysts/project managers with ERP skills.
Finally, Singapore will continue to be strong, especially in second and third quarters, with business-facing roles again in demand, although Michael Page manager Michael Nette warned me that ex-pats will only be offered local packages.
“For most multinational and local companies there is a strong drive to recruit Singaporean citizens and then look for talented a foreign candidate if local talent cannot be found,” he added. “The Singaporean government has introduced stricter criteria for government issued Employment Passes and Personal Employment Passes.”
The bad news for ex-pat IT pros is that local talent is strong and getting better all the time, so anything under senior managerial level roles will probably be filled by home-grown professionals. What’s more, in China you WILL be expected to speak Mandarin, or at least to have lived and worked in the country for a time previously. Language skills in international business hubs of Singapore and HK are less important (although would still give you an edge), but job seekers will be expected to do their search from over there, so it’s going to take a leap of faith.
“Be stationed in Hong Kong for a extended period. Visiting for only a week or applying for jobs from abroad make it very difficult to secure a role in Hong Kong,” said Michael Page regional director Christopher Aukland. “A lot of expats find roles through networks rather than applying directly – therefore being here in person to network extensively is critical.”
The days of the cushy ex-pat package are pretty much gone, so expect local wage scales and lots of competition, unless you’re lucky enough to get a transfer out here with your current employer. That said the experience gained – both life and work-wise – will be invaluable for future career prospects, so it’s well worth a punt if the time is right for you.
You might even end up never leaving.